Residents of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District will not vote in November about whether the water should continue to be fluoridated. The matter cannot be voted on again until 2016.
The Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District is one of the largest districts of its kind in the state, providing service to a population that reaches more than 70,000 people in the summer months. The district includes the aforementioned three towns, plus Ogunquit, Biddeford, Arundel and York.
Residents approved fluoridation in 2002, and the process began shortly after, in early 2003.
For fluoridation to stop, the majority of those towns (at least four) would have had to vote to put the question on their November ballot. A majority decision would then require the minority towns to also put the question on their November ballot, said Norm Labbe, superintendent of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District. The towns would have to vote to include the ballot question by Aug. 5—90 days prior to the gubernatorial election. The measure can only be voted on during a presidential or a gubernatorial election.
Advocates who wanted to see the question put to voters have withdrawn their request in response to the lack of support among the seven communities within the district. The boards of selectmen in Kennebunk and Arundel chose not to move forward with the question at their recent meetings. The Kennebunkport Board of Selectmen, recognizing that there is no chance for a majority among the towns, followed suit.
“It takes four towns to place it on the warrant in order for the question to be brought forward at the election. Because the other towns did not vote to move it forward, we would not get the four towns needed,” said Laurie Smith, town manager of Kennebunkport at the July 24 board of selectmen meeting.
Last month, the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen voted to schedule a last-minute town meeting on July 22 to allow public input on the matter before deciding whether to include the question on the November ballot. That meeting was cancelled less than a week later.
At the Arundel Board of Selectmen’s meeting July 14, Superintendent Labbe said he didn’t want to have a debate about fluoridation. He wanted to let the voters decide.
“Back when it was voted on the first time, the district was neutral in its position,” Labbe said on Monday. Expressing concern about fluoridation is a “new position for the district.”
“All we’re here to do is actually request that the selectmen put it on the ballot,” Labbe said. “We’ve been feeding fluoride now for about a dozen years. In that time we’ve handled a lot of fluoride, we’ve learned a lot of information about fluoride, and at this point in time, we feel it’s in the best interest of our customers and our employees that we rethink that decision and give the people a chance to vote.”
Jan Hanson, speaking as a concerned citizen told the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen earlier this month: “Fluoride is a neurotoxin . . . We are most concerned about the health of our children and our senior citizens. It can have a negative impact on the brain cells, the nervous system and the skeletons of our most vulnerable citizens,” Hanson said.
“To this day, the EPA categorizes it as hazardous waste. In the past fluoride was used as rat poison.”
This particular issue, which has proven controversial, has led to the dichotomization of two informed, opposing contingencies. At the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen meeting, Labbe’s adversaries included four dentists, who were all in favor of water fluoridation.
Half of those local dentists were present at the Arundel Board of Selectmen meeting.
Jim Trentalange, owner of Trentalange Family Dentistry on Route 1, told the Arundel board, “Every 10 years, the CDC, which has a lot of very smart people, takes all the (fluoride) research from the United States, from around the world and sits down and goes through it. They write a book. I sat down and read it. There is no new stuff out there.”
“The CDC, the surgeon general, the World Health Organization, is still promoting fluoride and … they use it as our benchmark because it takes away a preventable disease. This is a vaccination that I can’t do any better in my office,” Trentalange continued.
“It is not like an immunization where it’s carefully measured, it is totally dependent on how much water you drink,” Labbe said in response to Trentalange.
If one person drinks a moderate amount of water while another person drinks four times as much, that person is ingesting four times as much fluoride, Labbe said.
“Of all the chemicals we have, it’s the one with the least amount of safety factor. Everything we do in the water works industry, all of the regulations we have by the EPA, have a safety factor of a 1,0000 to 1. This one has the safety factor of about 4 to 1,” Labbe said.
“Yes, statistically it may reduce dental caries. My position is that people should have the individual right to choose if they want fluoride … It should be an individual decision, not something the water utility puts in the water for everybody to drink depending on how much water you choose to drink,” Labbe said.
Despite the failed effort, Labbe said “We’re going to work and get information out to people in the next few months and let the debate about the pros and cons continue.”
Arundel Selectman Phil Labbe admitted that he hadn’t done much research on the fluoridation issue, but also felt the decision should be made by residents.
“I don’t know if fluoride is better or worse for us, but I think it’s the right of the people to decide what they want to take or not take.”
Phil Labbe was the only selectman in Arundel to support the idea.