Whether the town will pose a question to the voters in November about continuing water fluoridation will be decided at a tentativelyscheduled July 22 board of selectmen meeting.
The 4-3 decision came after the board fielded a variety of comments from the public. Resident Jan Hanson, along with Norm Labbe, superintendent of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, advocated against fluoridation and requested a question be put on the November ballot to let residents decide.
Residents voted to fluoridate the water in 2002. The measure can only be voted on during a presidential or a gubernatorial election, which is why Labbe and Hanson wish to put it on the November ballot.
“We are concerned about the addition of fluoride to our drinking water and would like to see a warrant article on the Nov. 4 ballot requesting that fluoride be removed from our water supply,” Hanson told the board.
“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.”
Hanson read the warning label on the back of a tube of toothpaste, which warns against swallowing due to higher-than-tolerable levels of fluoride.
“The amount of fluoride this refers to is a quarter milligram, the equivalent of a pea-size dot of toothpaste on your toothbrush. This is the same amount of fluoride we get when we drink a fluoridated amount of tap water,” Hanson said.
“Toothpaste carries a ‘do not swallow’ warning, but we are told to drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water every day without any concern about the amount of fluoride we’re ingesting.”
Halting the fluoridation of water would require an effort from each of the seven towns that receive water from the district. Hanson and her allies have already presented to the board of selectmen in Wells, and will present to Ogunquit this week and in York and Biddeford at the end of the month.
The Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District is one of the largest of its kind in the state, providing service to a population that reaches more than 70,000 people in the summer months. Those towns and one city include the aforementioned three, along with Ogunquit, Biddeford, Arundel and York.
In order for changes to be made to the district’s water fluoridation, the majority of those towns (at least four) have to vote to put the question to voters in their November ballot.
A majority decision to take that measure would, then, require the minority towns to also put the question on the ballot in November, Labbe said. The towns have to vote to do so by Aug. 5 – 90 days prior to the gubernatorial election.
Labbe and Hanson appeared to have persuaded some members of the board of selectmen.
Selectman Dick Morin told Labbe, “I came here opposed to your position and you’ve converted me; I think it’s a sound decision.”
Longtime York County dentist Joe Kenneally of Kennebunk said one of his proudest achievements was when he chaired a fluoridation drive in Biddeford-Saco to get those areas fluoridated.
“Americans have the nicest teeth in the world, for one reason and one reason, only, and that’s prevention,” said Kenneally, who is a former president of the Maine Dental Association, a former vice president of the American Dental Association and current president of the International College of Dentists.
Kids went from having giant cavities to having no cavities at all after the fluoridation was implemented, Kenneally said.
“I credit most of that to community water fluoridation across all economic spectrums,” said Kenneally, who has practiced for more than three decades. “It has made a huge difference in the overall health.”
Kenneally said he could probably refute most of the information being disseminated by antifluoridation groups.
Later, both Lisa Howard, an orthodontist in Scarborough who lives in Kennebunk and Jim Trentalange of Trentalange Dentistry, addressed the board in support of fluoridation.
Howard recalled living in Minnesota and working at two practices, one in a fluoridated community and one in a non-fluoridated community.
“The differences in what you see in oral health is tremendous,” Howard said. “Unless you’ve been in the trenches, you can’t really appreciate what we’re talking about.”
“Water fluoridation is one of the top 10 public health measures of the last century,” Hanson said, citing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Labbe admitted that it was a polarized issue and that he can see both sides, but his point is that the public should be given the chance to look at it again, and “with the new information that has come out in the last decade, let the public decide.”