An old debate has been rekindled in Wellington as council members prepare to discuss the necessity of fluoride in the village’s drinking water.
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, council members will discuss a resolution to eliminate fluoridation of Wellington’s public drinking water supply. The village has added fluoride to its drinking water since 1999, when council members at the time voted to install equipment and fluoridate the water.
Council members directed staff last week to put the issue on the agenda following comments from the public about the necessity of fluoride in the drinking water. “I think the issue merits public discussion,” Vice Mayor Howard Coates said.
The issue of fluoridation in public drinking water has long divided communities across the country since the idea was introduced in the 1940s. Fluoridation has been supported by many major health organizations in the United States, including the Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association.
Proponents argue that adding fluoride to the water is beneficial for teeth and helps reach populations that do not regularly receive dental care.
Other organizations, such as the Sierra Club and other citizen groups, have opposed fluoride, claiming it could have unintended consequences, introduces unnecessary additives into the water and is unnecessary in affluent communities where the population typically can afford dental services.
According to a Wellington staff report, the village’s utility department has not had any incidents adding fluoride to the water and has not received any complaints documenting negative impacts. Wellington spends about $34,000 a year for fluoridation.
During public comment at the Jan. 14 meeting, resident Charlene Arcadipane asserted that Wellington had not received confirmation from its fluoride provider that the substance is safe for drinking water. “Two council members have sent out letters to the supplier of hydrofluoric acid, the fluoridation chemical that we are forced to drink and bathe in,” said Arcadipane, who led the opposition to fluoridation when the issue was last discussed 15 years ago.
The letters requested confirmation that the manufacturer claims the product is safe for consumption and that it helps fight tooth decay. “More than a year has gone by without a response,” Arcadipane said. “They have chosen to ignore their due diligence.”
Further, Arcadipane said Village Engineer Bill Riebe has submitted documents to the village that say the arsenic content has exceeded what the water additive can contribute. She added that although she had been told workshops were planned to discuss the matter, none had been held.
Coates said that he was one of the council members who requested the information.
“I will tell you… much of this is beyond my comprehension level,” he said. “I have relied on [Riebe] to tell me if there has been compliance. I don’t have the independent engineering background to make those determinations.”
He said that Riebe has said that the chemical is difficult to work with. “In my conversations with the village engineer, the one thing that has been a constant is his assessment is that the fluoride is a very nasty chemical and one of the most difficult chemicals they deal with here in the village,” Coates said.
The issue of fluoridation has supporters and opponents with passionate views, he acknowledged. “The reason I have been a supporter of having a workshop is to give both sides an opportunity to air their issues before this council,” Coates said. “It’s the only way we can get the information presented in a structured, organized manner.”
But Coates said he was skeptical of the necessity of fluoride in Wellington’s water supply. “I have significant reservations if fluoridation is necessary in communities like Wellington,” he said.
He said he hadn’t made a firm decision whether or not he supports fluoridation.
“I haven’t made a decision yet, but I will say I have respect for the initial argument that this is a nasty chemical we’re ingesting into our bodies,” he said. “At the end of the day, if there’s not much of a benefit to a community like Wellington — and there are those who say the socioeconomic status of the community doesn’t make a difference, but I tend to disagree — then why are we putting it in?”
Councilman John Greene also wanted to have a workshop on the issue. “I tend to agree with you,” he said. “My understanding is that a workshop has been scheduled and cancelled.”
Village Manager Paul Schofield said it had been postponed because there was not an entity willing to debate against fluoridation.
“The concept was to have a public debate with both sides represented,” Schofield said. “A lot of people will come in and tell you fluoride is a wonderful thing. Hardly anyone wants to represent the other side.”
Schofield noted that Wellington’s water supply is heavily regulated and has remained in compliance with all regulations. “If we weren’t, we would have been cited long ago,” he said.
He said he is prepared to hold a discussion on the matter at the Jan. 28 meeting.
Greene said he supported having a discussion then. “I think the proper way to have this debate would be to bring all sides in,” he said. “I think there are some socioeconomic advantages for some communities to have fluoride, but in a community like Wellington with more affluence — where residents are more likely to have proper hygiene and visit the dentist — it might not be necessary.”