Bruce Rideout was expecting a different reaction. He thought his recent email to the Madison Water Utility questioning its addition of fluoride to drinking water would get a curt reply, or none at all.

Instead, Rideout began hearing “from all these people strongly encouraging me” to raise the issue at the Water Utility Board’s next meeting on Tuesday, March 24. (It’s at the Water Utility, 119 E. Olin Ave., 4:30 p.m.)

“I was kind of taken aback,” says Rideout, a town of Blooming Grove resident whose water comes from Madison. “It was almost as if they were waiting for somebody to come forward.”

Among those who replied was board president Jon Standridge. He expressed his view, prompted by a Wisconsin Water Association session on the subject, that Madison “should probably readdress the issues of continuing fluoridation” in light of “new information that has become available since the decision” to fluoridate Madison’s water was made in 1948. And while local public health authorities back fluoridation, Standridge advised, “I do not see this as a closed issue, but one that merits further discussion.”

Rideout, who plans to attend next week’s meeting, agrees some arguments against fluoride run to the “conspiratorial.” But he’s also seen articles “from highly competent scientists” suggesting that fluoride in water may do more harm than good.

Fluoride, naturally present in most water sources, is added to reduce the incidence of tooth decay. But some dispute whether this is effective, and link fluoride to an increased risk of hip fractures and other maladies. Even Madison recognizes that fluoride can be harmful; in August 2007 it shut down a well that was adding too much of it.

“There are a litany of health hazards related to fluoride,” says Rideout, noting that people have died from ingesting large amounts. “I have serious questions about the addition of a toxic chemical to water.”

While most large municipal water systems add fluoride, 361 of the state’s 614 water systems do not. Some communities have rejected calls to add the chemical.

Last July, the village of Poynette in Columbia County stopped adding fluoride, which one local official dubs “poison.” In response, the Madison and Dane County Public Health Department launched a fluoridation review.

“We initiated it ourselves,” says Tommye Schneider, the department’s director of environmental health. “We wanted to be prepared, in case this issue started coming up in Dane County.”

Completed in January, the review* called “the continuation and expansion” of fluoridation” a public health imperative.”

Tom Heikkinen, Water Utility general manager, notes that “fluoridation of drinking water systems has been a subject of debate since it was started.” His office frequently gets letters and emails on the subject.

And while Heikkinen is confident “there is no harm in fluoridating our water supply,” he says the Water Utility Board is interested in exploring the issue further. The use of fluoride is now required by city ordinance.

“From our perspective,” says Heikkinen, “this is a public policy decision that should be made by elected officials.”

– END –

* The Policy Statement, Fluoridation of Public Drinking Water, was prepared by the Madison & Dane County Public Health departments, January 2009, and is available at