The fluoride question made it onto the March ballot and the public works commissioner wants to change its wording.
Fluoride, a chemical additive recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association, is added to Rutland City’s drinking water in order to improve dental health.
But a local organization said fluoridation is an outdated method of nonconsensual mass-medication that can actually pose a health threat. Those local opponents of fluoride said the industry continues to use the chemical in part because of big-business interests and entrenched dental practices.
Jack Crowther, founder of Rutland Fluoride Action, helped begin a campaign last summer to remove fluoride from Rutland City water. Beginning July 31, Crowther and the RFA circulated a petition to bring the fluoride question to voters on Town Meeting Day.
The petition was turned into the city clerk Nov. 19.
Requiring 500 signatures of registered voters to be valid, the petition surpassed that mark and topped out at over 800 signatures, Crowther said.
Now the petition will go before the Board of Aldermen for approval Tuesday night.
Jeffrey Wennberg, commissioner of public works, said the Board of Aldermen can vote down the petition so it wouldn’t appear on the ballot. But he said that would be unlikely because Rutland Fluoride Action took all the necessary steps to have the issue included.
Wennberg said he expects the board to approve the petition for a ballot vote.
“It’s absolutely appropriate,” Wennberg said of the fluoride vote.
“Even members of the board who don’t necessarily support (removing fluoride) … support putting it on the ballot.”
Wennberg said he wants to change the petition’s wording to clarify the situation before the board votes. But Crowther said Wennberg’s proposed rewording slants the argument against fluoride removal.
The petition’s question is currently worded, “Shall the commissioner of public works fluoridate the public water supply of Rutland?”
Wennberg said he will propose, “Shall the commissioner of public works continue to fluoridate the public water supply of Rutland?”
The addition of “continue to” clarifies the city’s current use of fluoride, Wennberg said, and informs voters to a greater degree.
Crowther said he is skeptical of Wennberg’s intent.
“I think this is an obvious effort, at the last minute, to change the wording in a way to benefit the pro-fluoride side,” Crowther said. “There’s no way we’ll go along with it … (Wennberg’s) wording, while clarifying that fluoridation is current practice, carries the subtle message: Keep doing what we’re doing.”
If the Board of Aldermen approves the petition, Rutland City residents will vote on a recommendation for Wennberg’s office to consider. Removal of fluoride ultimately comes down to his decision as the public works commissioner.
Last summer, Wennberg said he would approve removal of fluoridation if voters recommend it and if the information presented was accurate information.
He reiterated that stance Sunday and said only one side of the story has been presented.
He said Rutland City has only heard from the opponents of fluoride and if fluoride supporters don’t present their side, the entire fluoride-removal effort is jeopardized.
“I don’t think it’s been terribly balanced,” he said. “So far it’s just been mostly the fluoride opponents … I have a serious problem concluding the voters made an informed decision if they only heard from the opponents. … I think there needs to be another perspective that is available for the voters to consider.”