ITHACA — To take a stance, or not to take a stance, was the main question involving water fluoridation that was finally answered at the Tompkins County Board of Health’s lengthy meeting Tuesday afternoon.
After listening to 14 comments from the public against fluoridating, and one comment in favor from an Ithaca dentist, the board voted 4-2 against a motion endorsing the addition of fluoride to municipal water systems.
Local physicians James Macmillan and Jeffrey Snedeker voted for the motion supporting fluoridation of the municipal water supply, while board chairman Dr. Francis Fox, community members Brooke Greenhouse and Daniel Hargett, voted against the motion. Tompkins County representatives Charles Evans, R-Dryden, at-large member Frank Proto, R-Caroline and Danby, and Dr. Joan Sullivan were absent.
Proto submitted a statement to record his vote against fluoridation.
City of Ithaca voters will be asked to vote Nov. 7 on whether the city charter should be amended to let Common Council enact laws regarding fluoridation of the city’s water supply, and whether a local law should be approved allowing the city’s Board of Public Works to add fluoride to the city’s water supply.
The Board of Health, however, unanimously approved a motion that fluoride is a valid part of a comprehensive oral hygiene program as administered by dental health professionals.
“If one accepts fluoride is beneficial and safe, then its current methods of distribution are not efficient,” Snedeker said during the board’s discussion. “The people who need it the most don’t take advantage of the system to distribute it.”
Other board members said they were still not convinced they knew enough about both sides of the issue to make an informed decision, and the scientific data make matters more confusing.
“As long as the public is apprehensive about the benefits of this chemical, and these other options are available locally, why not err on the side of caution. Let’s encourage use of these options, and avoid exposing a minority of the local population to this treatment,” Proto said in his submitted statement.
Though 62 percent of the nation’s municipal water supplies are fluoridated, some voters do not want the chemical added to their water.
Calling herself one of the “proverbial welfare mothers,” city resident Sarah Long told the board, “I’m not stupid. I’m poor, and I know how to buy a tube of Crest. Fluoride is not what our community needs. Good, quality dental care is,” she said.