Area dentists and physicians clashed with supporters of a “fluoride-free Portsmouth” on Monday at City Hall as the City Council entertained a request from resident Rick Horowitz to remove the additive from the city’s water supply.
Discussion on the topic dominated much of the public comment portion of the meeting, but ultimately resulted in no action being taken by the council.
Horowitz, a resident of Gates Street, brought about the issue through a letter sent to the council that stated his belief that fluoride is essentially a “poison” capable of increasing the risk of cancer and other physical ailments.
The city has added fluoride to the public water supply since the 1970s, but Horowitz has said he believes it is not something that should be forced upon citizens; it should be a choice.
The decision to fluoridate the city’s water was made following a referendum question on the Nov. 6, 1973, municipal ballot. In order to remove the fluoride from the water, voters would have to approve the measure in another referendum.
Horowitz was joined Monday by three other residents who spoke against adding fluoride to the water supply.
Dawn McGill, a resident of Dennett Street, said the subject of fluoride and its effects on people has long been a controversial topic across the country and throughout the world.
McGill said her research has shown that the National Kidney Association tells consumers not to ingest fluoride and the American Pediatric Association tells mothers not to use fluoridated water in baby formula.
“What’s a mom with an infant child to do?” she questioned.
McGill said she appreciates the science in support of fluoride, but believes it should not be forced upon residents, especially when it is difficult and expensive to remove in the home.
“I’m opposed to it being mandated and difficult to remove,” she said.
Shannon Farrelly, a Gates Street resident, said while the motivation for adding fluoride to the water was for good, times have changed.
“We’re learning more and more everyday about toxic conditions in which we are surrounded,” Farrelly said.
A handful of dentists and pediatricians attended the meeting to dispute claims made by Horowitz.
Daniel Brown, a local pediatrician, said if you look hard enough, you can find a scientific study that would support just about anything.
“The trick is to show the difference between good science and pseudo-science,” he said.
Brown said the continued research on fluoride shows its value in terms of cost-effectiveness and preventative dental care.
Neil Hiltunen, a practicing dentist and state representative to the American Board of Dental Examiners, said the state needs to do better in its effort to educate the public on fluoride.
Hiltunen said New Hampshire ranks 43rd out of 50 states in fluoridation.
“New Hampshire needs to get up there with the rest of the country in establishing community health programs to address dental disease,” Hiltunen said. “Fluoride is one of the best ways to do that.”
Rich DiPentima, a local state representative, said he has been involved in the issues of fluoridation for many years as a public health epidemiologist.
Having helped the city of Manchester implement fluoridation of its water supply in 1999, DiPentima said he has heard the same arguments made by Horowitz before. DiPentima said residents in Manchester twice rejected the claims against fluoride and voted for its infusion into the water supply.
“Community water fluoridation has been used in the United States for over 60 years,” DiPentima said. “Fluoridation is the most researched and studied public health intervention in history.”
DiPentima also cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s backing of fluoridation and claimed that, since water fluoridation began in Manchester in 2000, there has been an 18 percent reduction in dental decay experienced in children in Title One schools.
“The evidence for the efficacy and safety of water fluoridation has been scientifically established and proven over and over again,” DiPentima said.
Despite the large amount of discussion on the topic of fluoridation, the council ultimately chose to place the letter from Horowitz on file rather than refer the subject to the city manager for a report.
The vote was 8-1, with Councilor Ken Smith as the lone vote in favor of further study.