MARYVILLE – The Internet has become the newest battleground in the controversy over the South Blount County Utility District’s decision to remove fluoride from the water the organization provides its 13,000 customers.
Mike Biddle, who runs his own Web hosting and site design service, entered the fray during the weekend, bringing online a site dedicated to validating the non-fluoridation decision.
His site, www.fluoridecouldharm.com, is the result of sort of a crisis of conscience that Biddle was faced with during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The other side of the issue is portrayed on www.fluoride4blountcounty.com, a site administered by Blount resident T-Rex Ogle Jr., a computer programmer who has spoken publicly in support of fluoridation and who initiated a petition drive on the Web site to generate a list of those who want fluoride back in the water.
Biddle said his introduction to the issue came when he read a published report about tomorrow’s meeting of the South Blount County Utility District’s board of commissioners.
“My first instinct was to be outraged and to sign the petition,” Biddle said.
But then he got online and did some research on his own and “reached the conclusion that we don’t need medication in our water.”
Fluoride, for decades touted as one of the top public health successes of the last century, is credited with drastically reducing tooth decay, particularly among young children. And though it is acknowledged that too much fluoride can produce a serious medical condition known as fluorosis, supporters of fluoridation say the recommended one-part-per-million dose that comes in tap water has no known side effects except for better dental health.
Opponents say long-term fluoride exposure can lead to more brittle bones as well as a host of problems in the body’s internal organs. Plus, they contend, no public health benefit merits a chemical being introduced into the water supply so that users are exposed to it involuntarily.
And that is essentially what brought Biddle into the electronic fray.
He says his research changed the direction of his outrage to one of opposition to fluoride. There are “enough questions at this point,” he says, that he feels fluoride should be left out of the water.
“It’s not necessary. You can get fluoride in toothpaste. You can make a choice.”
Opponents also say fluoride is only beneficial if applied topically to teeth, not ingested.
Biddle says he believes fluoride will be “history in the near future,” and he likens it to lead in gasoline and paint and asbestos in construction materials.
Ogle could be considered Biddle’s polar opposite.
He says he is “perplexed” at the utility’s decision.
Ogle says he also plans on being at today’s meeting, with the results of his petition drive in hand, as well as a number of letters of support. He is unsure exactly how many names have been added to his downloadable petitions, but he will be bringing them today to present them as evidence that a sizable number of South Blount customers support fluoridation.
Micky Roberts, district director of the Blount & Sevier County Health Department, who has spoken in support of fluoridation, says the controversy comes down to whose science you believe. But he cites the numerous government agencies and medical groups – including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association – who stand foursquare behind fluoridation.
The Blount County fluoridation controversy has become something of an international cause for anti-fluoridation forces.
Since published reports on the issue began in the past couple of months, fluoridation has generated letters and e-mails from as far away and California, New York and even Australia. Anti-fluoride groups have weighed in, accompanying their message with supporting data.
But so have local and regional public health groups and medical societies, including the Blount County Dental Society and the East Tennessee Regional Health Office.
The Blount County Community Health Initiative Tuesday hand-delivered a letter of support for fluoridation to the South Blount commissioners – Bob Herron, Virginia Morton and Tom Abbott.
“Prevention is our easiest and cheapest mode for controlling most health problems,” said a letter from facilitator Laura Harrill, who delivered the letter. “Fluoridation of water is a classic example in this arena.”