During last Tuesday’s regular meeting, members of the Marion City Council discussed how they should respond to opponents of fluoridation.

The group voted at an earlier meeting to start adding fluoride to the city’s water system. The process will take months of work and an estimated $44,000.

However, city officials said fluoridation of the water is long overdue and badly needed in Marion.

Since its approval, several opponents of fluoridation have written letters to the newspaper and have spoken out against the city’s plan.

On Tuesday, Councilman Mike Edwards asked how the city should respond to people who are opposed to fluoridation.

“One side of that issue floods us on a daily basis,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Little said, when he is contacted by an opponent of fluoridation, he tells the person that he understands they have a differing point of view but the council has made this decision based on the recommendations of health professionals. City officials have said the Marion/McDowell area has an above average rate of dental decay.

“We have already decided this issue,” Little said, adding the council does not have to hold a public hearing on the matter. “I personally don’t think this merits more of our time.”

The subject of fluoridation will be discussed during the upcoming town meeting scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 23. During the event, residents can ask questions of their city officials as well as the numerous utility companies and agencies serving Marion.

This year, two state officials will present information about the adding of fluoride to the city’s water supply.

Ray McCall, water plant consultant with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, will talk about state regulations concerning fluoridation.

Dr. Robert Leddy, public health dentist supervisor with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, will also speak. “He will talk about the health benefits of fluoridation,” said City Manager Bob Boyette.

Little said he hopes this one issue does not dominate the town meeting. “I hope that doesn’t turn into a fluoride discussion,” he said.

On Friday, Edwards said he has heard from about 10 to 15 people who have either called him or stopped by his law office. He said this is a large number compared to the amount of interest from the public about other matters facing the council.

“I have gotten a lot of calls and a couple of people have stopped by,” he said. “They are opposed to the fluoridation issue, and they have left some literature they have obtained. The majority of those are opposed, but I would say a third of them are in favor.”

The council started looking at this project a year ago during the annual planning workshop. “Last year, we started a proactive effort to contact health officials, doctors, dentists,” Edwards said. “We got 100 percent back from all of the health officials that it is safe.”

Edwards said he feels this issue has been decided unless some credible evidence against fluoridation can be brought forward.

“I feel like we had a consensus from among our board,” he said. “I felt like it was something we wanted to do unless we got some credible evidence (to the contrary). I do feel like if someone wants to come out and talk to us at the town meeting, I am all ears. I would like to hear anything anybody has. At this point, I feel like it is something in the best interest of the people, especially for the kids. I would like to hear what they have to say. That is what these town meetings are all about.”

At the direction of council, Boyette researched the matter last year and found many surrounding cities and towns added fluoride to their water in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.

The city of Marion could have had fluoridated water in the late 1960s or early 1970s. However, a controversy arose about this proposal and a number of residents objected to the process. The fluoride ordered by the city was sitting at Marion’s railroad depot but was sent to Morganton instead.

The city will have to go through a number of state agencies and departments before fluoride can be added. The Asheville engineering firm of McGill Associates said the estimated cost of this project would be $44,000.

City officials said they have received a number of opinions from medical and dental health professionals, all supporting the addition of fluoride to the city’s water supply.

These professional organizations include the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the McDowell County Dental Society, the McDowell County Medical Society, the McDowell County Partnership of Children and Families, the McDowell Medical Associates, The McDowell Hospital and others.

Other people hold a different view about fluoride and fluoridation.

Bernard W. Miltenberger of Frostburg, Md. recently wrote a letter to The McDowell News. It read simply: “Marion is blessed not to have their waters fluoridated. Why would anyone want to drink a protoplasmic poison?”

When contacted by The McDowell News, Miltenberger said he is one of the trustees of the Pure Water Committee of Western Maryland, an anti-fluoridation group.

“We have been forcing fluoride out of the drinking water in western Maryland for the past 50 years,” he said, adding his group has a lawsuit pending in the federal courts.

He said he heard about the plan to add fluoride to Marion’s water supply from a Web site maintained by Dr. Paul Connett, a biochemist at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. The site’s address is www.fluoridealert.org and other anti-fluoridation groups have ties to the Web site.

“I know what’s going on throughout the world,” he said.

Scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency have asked for a national moratorium on adding fluoride to the water, Miltenberger said. Fluoride is a chemical that is more toxic than lead, according to Miltenberger.

“They use our tax dollar money against us,” he said. “It’s insane. It’s a chemical more toxic than lead and slightly less toxic than arsenic. Two to four grams is enough to kill an average adult male. It’s a 50-year-old, out-of-date science. Why any municipality would want to put it in is beyond me. It’s insane. The dentists have no credibility.”

He said mercury can be a hazardous chemical, and dentists place half a gram of mercury in the fillings of teeth.

He said local residents should check out the Web site maintained by Dr. Connett. “You could spend two weeks on that Web site,” he said. “There is so much information there.”

Miltenberger said he is a licensed pesticide applicator, and sodium fluoride is listed as an EPA-registered pesticide in Maryland.

“It’s insane why anybody would want to drink it,” he said.

When asked about fluoride in toothpaste, Miltenberger said he would ask someone if they would want to use a lead toothpaste or an arsenic toothpaste.

“Why are you buying a fluoride toothpaste? It’s just as toxic,” he said.