After one man complained about the possible dangers of fluoride, selectmen here have decided to let residents choose at the annual town meeting in June whether to continue fluoridating the water supply.
If residents vote to remove fluoride from the drinking water, Machias will be one of only four municipalities in Maine to discontinue using the additive, which is designed to improve dental health.
Carlton Gardner, compliance enforcement team manager for the Maine Drinking Water Program, said he knows of only three Maine municipalities whose residents have voted to stop fluoridating water. The communities of Jackman, Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor all voted to discontinue adding fluoride in 2007, he said.
“Every once in awhile it comes up … but it doesn’t happen often,” Gardner said.
The Machias selectmen decided to put the question to townspeople in the form of a warrant article at the annual town meeting after resident Vince Roberts urged them to stop fluoridating.
“I feel that … fluoride in the water is highly dangerous,” Roberts said at the Jan. 13 selectmen’s meeting. “It’s stronger than chlorine. It makes chlorine look like candy. People just don’t realize it.”
Roberts handed out copies of “Fluorine Facts” from the About.com website and underlined a passage that says, “The presence of sodium fluoride in drinking water at the level of 2 ppm [parts per million] may cause mottled enamel in teeth, skeletal fluorisis and may be associated with cancer and other diseases.”
According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Environmental Health website, the level of fluoride used in water in Maine is 0.7 ppm.
A total of 130 Maine municipalities add fluoride to their water, according to the state CDC’s Division of Environmental Health website. Another three municipalities — Friendship, Waldoboro and Warren — have naturally occurring fluoride.
The first municipality to add fluoride was Norway in 1952, followed by Baileyville and Brunswick, both in 1955. Machias added fluoride to its water starting in 1966, according to the website.
Municipalities across the country began adding fluoride to the water about 70 years ago because research indicated doing so would lead to improved dental health, according to an article titled, “Fluoride in water in the United States and public health misinformation: research review,” on the website of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Among the groups supporting fluoridation are the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, according to the article.
The American Dental Association has called community water fluoridation “one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.” In a video posted to YouTube in December 2015, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy credited water fluoridation with helping reduce the prevalence and severity of tooth decay, the article says.
Groups opposed to fluoridation include the Fluoride Action Network, which contends that fluoridating water is no more effective in preventing tooth decay than not fluoridating. The network also says the practice causes various maladies such as bone disease, arthritis, damage to the developing brain, reduced thyroid function and cancer, according to its website.
During the Jan. 13 meeting, Machias Selectmen F. James Whalen, who also is a medical doctor, said he has seen arguments both for and against fluoridation of drinking water.
“I think it’s a decision that the taxpayers should make. It’s not a decision for us to make,” Whalen said.
The other selectmen agreed.
Town Manager Christina Therrien confirmed at the meeting that taxpayers have to vote on the issue. Fluoride was added to the water by a town vote and would have to come out the same way, she said.