As reported by National Pubic Radio, the Biden administration plans to revisit “a long list of science-related Trump administration actions.” These are said to include all policies that are “’harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science or otherwise not in the national interest,’” to quote NPR quoting Biden.
In an early Executive Order reflecting this new focus, Biden ordered a reexamination of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Research from Columbia University has indicated the pesticide can harm the brains of fetuses whose mothers were exposed to it. Officials in the Obama administration sought to ban chlorpyrifos, but when he left office, the effort stopped.
The above scenario will resonate strongly with those who have followed the debate about the safety of public water supply fluoridation. There again we have a chemical which current science shows to be neurotoxic to fetuses and young children. That science is front and center in a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency winding its way to conclusion in federal court in San Francisco.
The early support for science shown by President Biden is a hopeful sign. We have a problem in this country because we often allow industry to decide what science is telling us. While industry may have the expertise, it often has an ax to grind and a reason to manipulate the science in its favor.
In the case of fluoridation, industry has powerful allies in the U.S. government’s public health establishment and in the the dental profession. Public health bureaucrats and dentists advocate for fluoridation, seemingly in the public interest. Meanwhile, industrial sponsors stay in the background, lobbying politicians, funding research and otherwise pulling strings to present fluoridation as safe and effective.
It is important to note that fluoridating public water supplies remains a local decision in most states. Local officials, however, are at the mercy of the go-to sources of information on the public health measure of fluoridation. Local boards turn to the presumed experts in public health and dentistry for advice on fluoridation.
In the case of Rutland, leaders can also point to the 2016 nonbinding vote, by a 3-to-2 margin, to continue fluoridation in the city. Fluoridation may be unethical, a health risk and of doubtful effectiveness. But the triple-whammy of endorsements from public health, dentists and the electorate shows “the hill we climb” in trying to stop it (to borrow a phrase from Amanda Gorman, our inspiring Inaugural poet).
In the absence of action from authorities who should know better, it’s up to ordinary citizens to speak up. Not because we lack respect for authority or our medical experts but because we know from experience that our own judgments must at times lead the way to needed change. Who but the people, after all, endowed Joe Biden with the mandate and power to return to science as a basis for government decision-making?
Eighteen hundred Rutlanders voted against fluoridation in 2016, but more of us need to speak up. Town Meeting Day will be here sooner than you think. Make a point of asking local candidates where they stand on fluoridation. And tell them where you stand.
Jack Crowther lives in Rutland.