On Tuesday, nine months after the Wellington Village Council initially approved putting fluoride in the village water supply, over 100 residents and experts gathered in the Wellington Community Center to debate the idea.
Mayor Tom Wenham started the meeting off by thanking everyone for coming. He introduced the council members who were in attendance.
After the introduction, Wenham said that experts and consultants on both sides would present their findings, but no decision would be made that evening. The council would get together over the next month or two, assimilate the information, and then make a decision.
“There will be no decision tonight,” Wenham stressed.
Wenham then introduced moderator Dr. Pat Bidal-Padva, who told those present the rules of the hearing. After presentations by both sides, she said, people from the audience would be allowed to question the information given. After the proponents and opponents responded, there would be summations from the panel of experts.
The proponents of fluoridation went first, assuring those in the audience that fluoride in drinking water — which is the norm in 68 percent of the nation — presented no risk to the American public.
Darrel Graziani, a professional engineer with the Florida Department of Health, and consultant J. Edward Singley, went into great detail about how many times fluoridated water has been tested and about how dangerous chemicals were filtered out.
All in all, Singley said that the amount of fluoride being considered for fluoridation is not that much.
“We’re talking about adding it in 8/10 of a part per million,” said Singley. “It already [appears in water naturally at] 4/10 of a part per million. It doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t really very much.”
Dr. Michael Easley, a dentist from Buffalo, N.Y., also showed residents extensive documentation in support of fluoridation. He cited studies, statistics, and quoted several other sources, including past and present surgeon generals, who supported fluoridation. He compared fluoridation to other beneficial additives, such as adding Vitamin D to milk, and adding vitamins and minerals to breakfast cereal. Adding fluoride to water, he said, would also cut down on costs because taxpayers would find themselves paying less for dental care.
Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, also said fluoridation was a benefit to children — and to people of all ages.
“When you look in the mouths of kids and adults, you can stop the suffering,” she said, “the needless tooth loss, and the health loss. It’s not just a kid’s issue.”
After the proponents presented their side, the opponents gave their presentations — which described the dangers of fluoridation.
Dr. Hardy Limeback, professor of preventative dentistry at the University of Toronto, spoke about how fluoridation was deleterious to the health of the American public. Fluoride in excessive quantities, he said, is absorbed into the teeth and into the surrounding bone structure. He cited several studies supporting his claims and showed those assembled photographs of people’s teeth that had been exposed to too much fluoride — a situation called “fluorosis.”
Because of fluoridation, he said he had seen too many stained teeth and some with little enamel. People were spending money not on fillings, but instead on fixing the teeth. “We’re doing more restorative dentistry than we would if we stopped fluoridation,” Limeback said.
Fluoridation, he added, also presented another danger — a potential increase in hip fractures in the elderly.
“Water fluoridation changes the arch of the bone,” he said. “The scaffolding in the bone has changed just from fluoride in the water. We’re going to see an epidemic of hip fractures in the cities who have fluoridation for 40 years if we won’t stop fluoridating.”
Science teacher Kenneth Case, who said he had studied the issue intensively, also agreed fluoridation was a danger. (Illegible)….could state in certainly that “no harm would come to you,” he said.
Other opponents and experts — like Dr. H.J. Roberts, Dr. J. William Hirzy, and attorney Douglas Balog — agreed that fluoridation was not necessary and dangerous to the health and well-being of the public. Balog even suggested that the addition of fluoride to the water supply denied people of their right to choose proper medication, and was therefore unconstitutional.
After the proponents and opponents had their say, Wellington residents spoke.
Resident and fluoridation opponent Robert Stubbs held up a tube of toothpaste and read the warning label.
“It says to keep it out of the reach of children under age six,” he said, “and if they swallow it, seek professional assistance or contact a poison control center immediately.”
Patricia Morell said she was worried about a link between fluoridation and lead.
“In a study, lead levels are increased in fluoridation,” she said. “Several communities have verified that the lead increases in the water. Who will bear the responsibility for predicted harm for higher lead levels?”
Twenty-one year old Max Cohen said, “We don’t need fluoride in our water. It’s in every toothpaste, in every brand-type.”
Jenny Broxton said she was opposed to fluoridation in water, but not in toothpaste. She told the council they were violating her rights by proposing its introduction.
“I’m not against the topical use of fluoride,” said Broxton. “I’m opposed to the internal consumption of a dangerous drug. To the council, I say, who are you to violate my rights? I don’t want to do it. It’s my choice!”
Supporters, although somewhat fewer, also had an opportunity to speak. Among them was Dr. Tom Floyd, a dentist with a practice in Royal Palm Beach. In all the time he has been treating children, he had never seen severe damage from fluoridation, he said.
“I’m honored to have treated your children for the last 20 years,” he said. “I’ve seen children from Belle Glade, West Palm Beach, and Wellington. I’ve seen 50 to 60 kids, and I know how fluoride works. Your kids need this.”
When asked to respond to the public comments and to sum up, both sides, of course, said the other was “misinformed” and had “inaccurate information” — so it’s still hard to make a decision as to whether fluoridation is dangerous or not.
In some of the hearing’s concluding comments, Case compared fluoridation to practicing medication without a license.
“These are people who would force medicine down your throat without your approval,” said Case. “I don’t know of any doctor who would prescribe a medicine and not control the dosage.”
Malecki, however, told him and the others opposed that there has been no evidence that fluoridation was harmful. Yet all the studies she had seen proved it was of benefit to the American public.
“I have to reassure you,” she said to everyone present, “good scientists are watching this. If something comes up, we will tell you, but fluoridation is preventing morbidity, mortality, and even death of newborns. How could anyone in good conscience not support it? How could you, the Wellington Village Council, not support this for the families who will grow old here” (emphasis added)
In the end, the public got a fairly balanced presentation, despite a couple of instances of bickering among the panel members. Now, the decision rests with the council.
While nothing is on the agenda, Councilwoman Linda Bolton said the issue of fluoride could come up as early [as] next Tuesday’s meeting.