LONGMEADOW – When residents head to the polls on Tuesday, they will vote on an issue that has beset the town since 1989 – whether to stop fluoridating the drinking water.
Resident Eleanor M. Stolar, a fluoridation opponent, has used a clause in the town charter to place a nonbinding question on the ballot asking voters whether they want Longmeadow to stop using fluoride.
Fluoridation of public water supplies is advocated by medical authorities as a highly effective method to dramatically reduce tooth decay, especially among children.
Nationally, opponents often claim that the safety of supplemental fluoride is in doubt. Some opponents object to being “forced” to use fluoridated water.
Although anti-fluoridation articles failed at the recent Longmeadow Town Meeting, Stolar got the referendum on the ballot by submitting petitions signed by at least 3 percent of the voters, in this case about 340, within five days of the article’s defeat at Town Meeting.
The Select Board then is legally obligated to present the question to voters.
“I knew about this for a while, but I had chosen not to use it before. We got 500 signatures on our petition. People feel so strongly that this is bad for our health, that I think it needs to be on the ballot,” she said.
“I really think it will pass,” Stolar said.
Across Massachusetts, more than half the 351 cities and towns have added fluoride in their public water supplies.
Fluoridated water flows to all 50 communities served by the state’s largest water supplier, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which operates Quabbin Reservoir.
They include Boston and most of its metropolitan area. But in Western Massachusetts, Chicopee, Wilbraham and part of South Hadley also are connected to the system.
In addition, another 139 of Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns fluoridate their water. In Western Massachusetts, these include Longmeadow, which began fluoridation in 1989, along with Holyoke, Amherst and parts of Belchertown and Pelham.
“Fluoride in the water can help prevent infectious oral health diseases, and it’s a benefit to our communities,” said Frank Robinson, director of Partners for a Healthier Community, an organization based in Springfield.
“There are 1,000 homespun reasons why not to fluoridate the water and there … is research and evidence, which prove the success and safety associated with water fluoridation.”
The Public Health Department says that community water fluoridation increases deficient levels of natural fluoride in drinking water to bring them up to the recommended level for optimal oral health.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry support giving supplemental fluoride directly to children between 18 months and 16 years of age if the community water in their supply is not fluoridated.
“I am against putting it in the water. It’s good on your teeth, but I do not think it’s good for you if you ingest it,” Stolar said. In addition, “What good does it do flushed down the toilet?” she asked.
Longmeadow residents also will cast votes on a ballot question asking that the Select Board and Audit Committee be in charge of the audit process, including selection of an independent auditor.
Looking at elected positions, voters will have little to do. All of the candidates are running unopposed.
Chairman of the Select Board Brian M. Ashe is seeking his third term, while member William G. Scibelli is nominated for a second term.
“It’s my first time running unopposed, which is kind of nice,” Ashe said.
Now that the town charter has been in place for several years, Ashe said that he is looking forward to town government running more smoothly.
School Committee Chairman Mary E. Vogel and member Robert Barkett are seeking their second terms. Bruce E. Colton and Christine Nuger are running for the Planning Board. A seat on the Housing Authority is open to write-in candidates.
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Community House.