SOUTH YARMOUTH — Barring the success of a petition drive, Yarmouth will become the first town on the Cape to fluoridate its water supply.
A small but vocal group of citizens was disappointed yesterday when members of the town’s board of health voted 3-2 in favor of the proposal.
“You’re full of baloney,” Domenic Pacitto of South Yarmouth yelled, jumping out of his chair at the hearing room in Yarmouth Town Hall. “Why don’t you use your money for something else?”
Fluoridating the town’s water supply is the best way to improve dental health among children, especially those from low-income families, said Benjamin Gordon, the health board’s chairman. Board member Helen Shah noted that children account for only 8 percent of Yarmouth’s population, but Gordon said fluoridation benefits people of all ages.
Shah agreed with Gordon that fluoride may be good for dental health, but she noted that many townspeople have objected to delivering it via the town’s water supply.
Gordon, Robert F. Brown and Ann Greenbaum supported the proposal. Shah and Patrick J. McDermott opposed it.
Pacitto was one of a dozen out of 30 opponents of fluoridation who became rowdy when Gordon expressed his reasons for voting to fluoridate. Protesters claimed Gordon was taking too long, and while he was speaking Pacitto grabbed the microphone. A police officer then intervened to restore order.
The town will proceed with the plan unless opponents can persuade 10 percent of the town’s registered voters to sign a petition within 90 days, forcing a townwide referendum.
The papers for the petition were taken out right after the meeting, and Pacitto said he and other fluoridation opponents hope to gather at least 2,000 signatures from registered voters, which exceeds the requisite 10 percent.
In Massachusetts, 139 of 351 communities fluoridate their water supply, among them Boston and New Bedford. Nationwide 170 million people use fluoridated water. Most of that water is used for purposes other than drinking, Pacitto said, noting that there are other ways to deliver fluoride.
Opponents expressed disappointment in the health board’s decision and decried the absence of Selectman William Marasco, who initiated the move to fluoridate town water.
“Dr. Marasco hasn’t been to any of the meetings,” Adele Fraser said.
Reached by telephone after the vote, Marasco said the decision to fluoridate is not a popularity contest.
“It is a good public health measure that follows state guidelines and was passed after thorough scientific analysis,” he said.
Yesterday’s vote comes after months of heated debate and presentations by representatives of both points of view.
“The board has taken a long time to decide this,” said Bruce Murphy, Yarmouth health director. “It’s not like they rushed it.”
Those against fluoridation raised the issue of cost, using a $3 million figure drawn for a consultant’s draft cost analysis report for the town’s water department. That figure is unrealistic because it contemplates the construction of a bottling plant the town will not consider, Marasco said.
The second option outlined in the consultant’s report is the only real alternative, Marasco has said previously. Under that scenario fluoride would be introduced through town wells at a capital cost of less than $1 million and annual operating expenses of less than $100,000, according to the report.
Staff writer Patrick Cassidy contributed to this report.