Since 1963, the Town of Mount Desert has been adding toxins to its drinking water by public mandate, according to water district manager Paul Slack. It was 44 years ago when the town voted to added fluoride to the water, which supplies about 1,000 connections in Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor. The intended purpose was to combat tooth decay. But in the past four and a half decades, research has shown that fluoridation may not be as effective as once thought in making teeth healthy, and may harm babies and cause cancer in boys.
At the annual town meeting on March 5, voters will decide by ballot whether to remove fluoride from the water. The question, according to state law, must read just as it did when originally put to vote: “Shall fluoride be added to the public water supply for the intended purpose of reducing tooth decay?” Only this time, a “yes” vote maintains the status quo, while a “no” vote removes the fluoride.
Mr. Slack believes the question is worded “extremely unfairly.” For starters, he said studies from the Center for Disease Control state that ingesting fluoride does not increase its effectiveness – topical applications with toothpaste or mouth rinse are just as effective, if not more so. He also said the fluoride added to water is not pharmaceutical grade, but industrial grade. It is a byproduct of the phosphate industry that would have to be disposed of as a toxic waste if it were not sold in barrels to be put into drinking water supplies.
“It’s a hazardous waste,” Mr. Slack said of fluoride. “It’s rat poison.” He added that it contains trace levels of lead, arsenic, and plutonium.
While other chemicals, like chlorine, are added to water to kill bacteria, fluoride does not make water safer, he said. It is added solely to benefit dental health.
“We’re mass medicating the community without the license to do so,” said Mark Johnson, the water district’s lab director who holds a grade-four license in water treatment and distribution, the highest available in Maine. He has spent the last six months researching the issue of water fluoridation and concluded it should end.
“It’s been the status quo for so long, but for us to let it continue on with the information out there now is irresponsible,” Mr. Johnson said. He compared it to asbestos and leaded gasoline – things once believed safe, only to be proven harmful later on.
Mr. Slack pointed out a Harvard study published in 2006 by Dr. Elise Bassin which found a correlation between bone cancer and fluoride consumption in boys up to the age of 17. He also cited a recent statement from the American Dental Association – a long time proponent of fluoridation – which said babies should not be given fluoridated water in their formula or food as it can inhibit the formation of healthy teeth.
With fluoride now contained in everything from Coca-Cola to breakfast cereals, Mr. Slack said “we’re way over fluoridated to begin with.” A presentation by Michael Connett, the project director for Fluoride Action Network, during the public meeting portion of Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting stated that cases of fluorosis – an overexposure to fluoride – have increased five-fold in the past fifty years, now affecting about a third of the U.S. population. He said the condition is even common in non-fluoridated communities, given the prevalence of fluoride in other products. He added that while cavities have become far less common since the 1950s, there is no correlation between low cavity rates and water fluoridation.
Adding fluoride to the water in Mount Desert costs about $3,000 a year, a small fraction of the water district’s operating budget, Mr. Slack said, so money is certainly not the motivation. He wants only to reverse 44 years of thinking in order to provide what he sees as safer drinking water.
“There are no smoke and mirrors here,” he said. “If people actually look at things, we think they’ll come to the right decision.”