The Edgartown board of health’s decision to add fluoride to the town water supply has sparked outrage from the community.
“It should have been brought before the voters, and not been done behind closed doors,” water commission superintendent Bill Chapman said in a phone conversation with The Times.
During the regularly scheduled water commissioners meeting Tuesday afternoon, the board of health and water commission discussed their disagreements over the vote. The board of health will reconsider its vote at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 6 pm at Edgartown Town Hall. No decision was made Tuesday, because board member Kathie Case was not present.
“We declared a meeting this coming Tuesday, and we’ll do our best to ratify,” board of health member Harold Zadeh said. “We’re trying to work with the town. If we made a mistake, we made a mistake.”
On Oct. 10, Mr. Zadeh and board of health member Dr. Garrett Orazem voted in favor of adding fluoride, and Ms. Case abstained. According to Massachusetts General Laws, 10 percent of Edgartown’s 3,628 registered voters must petition against the board’s decision in less than 90 days, otherwise fluoride will be added to the water supply. The town was notified on Oct. 20, and has until mid-January.
“It’s tough,” water commissioner and Edgartown resident David Burke told The Times. “A good portion of registered voters are snowbirds and leave the area. It’s also been on public record that less than 10 percent of registered voters show up at town meeting. It’s going to be difficult to obtain these signatures.”
Health agent Matt Poole admitted Tuesday that he underestimated the challenge of obtaining 10 percent of voters’ signatures, but the board of health arrived at its decision with the petition process in mind. Mr. Poole said the decision to act on the statute is supported by the Centers for Disease Control, one of the largest and most representative public health entities in the nation. The decision was largely driven by board member Dr. Orazem, who is a dentist and believes it’s important for communities to fluoridate if they are able to. According to Dr. Orazem, there are about 580 people on a dental waitlist on Martha’s Vineyard.
“We have communities that have grown with fluoride in their water system,” Dr. Orazem said. “It’s in the ocean water, and mammals have been swimming in it for millions of years. It is safe and effective, and it exists for 279 million Americans. If anything, there’s less of a public drive because it’s an old issue, as far as the rest of the commonwealth goes.”
Mr. Chapman agreed fluoride is an old issue, but believes it’s outdated. He said that only nine communities in the commonwealth have chosen to fluoridate their water systems since the year 2000, and many of the listed towns are misrepresented because they have a shared water system.
“Belchertown, for example, is a listed as a fluoridated community,” Mr. Chapman said. “But fluoride is not part of their water system. What it has is a well from the town of Amherst with a main going through Belchertown, so that information is not portrayed as accurately as it could be.”
Fluoride is an inorganic compound, and Mr. Chapman believes the only reason to put chemicals in water is for regulatory purposes. “All we do is corrosion control,” he said, referencing the commission’s water treatment to help mitigate the effects of lead and copper in the water system. “Anything additional is an unnecessary risk.”
Community members and water commission members argued that no government should dictate what entire communities take for medication.
“In my opinion,” Edgartown resident Heidi Boyd told The Times, “It doesn’t seem fair that two people on the board of health made this decision for the whole town of Edgartown. I looked back at the minutes from the meeting, and the fluoride talk began in February, and we, the townspeople, are now just finding out about it in November. I work in the town hall, and I didn’t hear a peep. It’s an enormous decision, and we should have a say.”
“This extends the power of government to force citizenry to ingest something they don’t necessarily want to ingest,” another Edgartown resident said at Tuesday’s meeting, “What you’re doing is taking away choice. Fluoride is not only the water we drink, but it’s the water we bathe in, shower in, and garden with.”
According to Mr. Chapman, fluoride has a maximum contaminant level (MCL), which means there’s a threshold for what people can ingest. He also said the most commonly used fluorides are sodium-based, and the town’s water system already has high levels of sodium.
Fluoride was introduced into the water systems as a way to strengthen teeth in the 1950s and 1960s, when kids were eating a lot of sugar, and alternative methods for ingesting fluoride weren’t available. Since then, toothpaste, mouthwash, and prescribed dental medications are available.
Selectmen chairman Arthur Smadbeck attended Tuesday’s meeting, and said he believes the vote should be rescinded, and the board of health should put a nonbinding referendum on the ballot to see how the people of Edgartown feel.
The petition against fluoride is active, and concerned residents are trying to spread the word. Last Saturday, Nov. 11, David and Megan Burke helped organize a drive-through petition signing.
“The petition is a valuable instrument; at least voters can weigh in on a ballot,” Mr. Chapman said. “And if voters decide to add fluoride, so be it. My conscience will be clear.”