To fluoridate or not to fluoridate?

Edgartown board of health leaves it up to voters.

Debra Gaines, left, and David Burke hold signs protesting the addition of fluoride to Edgartown water before a special town meeting last week. The issue was back before the board of health Tuesday evening who noted that petitioners have gathered enough signatures to put it before voters. — Stacey Rupolo

Updated Nov. 22

The Edgartown board of health stood by its controversial decision to add fluoride to the municipal water system despite heated debate at a meeting Tuesday evening called to review the board’s earlier action.

At Tuesday’s meeting, with 15 people in the audience, the board held firm knowing that enough signatures had been gathered by petition to bring the question of adding fluoride to the water to town voters.

“We’d like to start out by apologizing to the water department,” board of health member Harold Zadeh said. “You should have been involved from the start. We found out Wednesday that there are 400 names on the petition, so it will be put on a ballot. That was our intent anyways.”

At issue is the Oct. 10 vote by Mr. Zadeh and Dr. Garrett Orazem to enact a statute that would fluoridate the town’s water supply. Board member Kathie Case abstained from the vote. Residents were given 90 days from the date the community was notified to gather signatures from 10 percent of the town’s 3,628 registered voters.

The announcement was published on Oct. 20, enraging some in the community and prompting a petition drive that’s gathered enough signatures to get the issue before voters at a spring town meeting.

“So you’re not going to rescind?” Edgartown resident and harbormaster Charlie Blair said from the audience.

“I’m not going to rescind, I’m going to let it go through the process,” Mr. Zadeh responded, and Mr. Blair abruptly left the meeting.

After nearly an hour of discussion, the board officially decided not to rescind and instead will attempt to educate voters leading up to town meeting, Mr. Zadeh said.

Once again, Ms. Case was not at the meeting. She was off-Island at an appointment.

“We’re not going to agree on this,” health agent Matt Poole said. “But I think we should talk about what happens if this does pass.” The meeting concluded, and transparency was mentioned a key to collaboration moving forward.

Not everyone at the meeting was opposed to fluoride in the water. Chilmark resident and Vineyard Haven dentist Bruce Golden spoke to the board’s decision, stating that two-thirds of the nation’s population drinks fluoridated water. “Fluoridated water is a wonderful, reasonable, healthy, and inexpensive thing,” he said.

For some, the key issue was the process used by the board. At a meeting last week, members of the water commission said the decision shouldn’t have been made without their input, as well as feedback from the community at large.

“I don’t think anybody, local or federal, should dictate what entire communities take for medication,” water superintendent Bill Chapman said at a meeting the previous Tuesday.

Fluoride is an inorganic compound known to strengthen teeth and prevent cavities. Communities began fluoridating their water systems in the mid-1940s as a way to prevent tooth decay across large populations. Since then, alternative methods for fluoridation have developed in mouthwashes, toothpastes, and medication.

Dr. Orazem is a dentist on-Island, and believes communities that can fluoridate, should. “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.”

Mr. Poole had noted previously that Dr. Orazem’s opinion is supported by the Center for Disease Control, as well as by other large and representative public health entities.

The cost of fluoridating the water system in Edgartown would be about $640,000 in capital costs, and $14,500 in annual operations, according to Mr. Chapman. “If it were required to meet regulations, then it would be money well spent,” Mr. Chapman told The Times. “In this particular case, it seems expensive to implement something like this when there are alternatives.”

Mr. Chapman noted that fluoride has a maximum contaminant level (MCL), which means there’s a threshold to how much should be ingested. He also said fluoride would be the only added chemical in Edgartown’s water supply that’s not used for treatment and purification, and would add to the system’s already high levels of sodium.

Many in town have been active in speaking against the board of health’s decision. Selectmen Arthur Smadbeck vocalized from the start that he believed the board of health should rescind its vote. Community members have voiced their opinions at meetings, organized drive-through petition signings, and stood outside the Old Whaling Church with signs during special town meeting last week.

Story updated to correct the capital cost involved in fluoridating the water.


  1. Please add a zero to that initial estimated cost. It is NOT 64,000.00! Initial estimates for the equipment alone are in the neighborhood of 640,000.00. That’s 640K! It is my understanding that this figure does not include any engineering costs. Furthermore, I must emphasize that this “order” was issued by only TWO members of the BOH, one of whom has no background in any health-related matters. This “order” was clearly an autocratic action initiated by the professional agenda of one board member, voted on without benefit of any public input (apparently because we are too ignorant to know what is best for us): there were no preliminary discussions with the Water Commissioners (regarding the logistics of implementation) nor with the Board of Selectmen (regarding capital costs).

      • I hope that you will be able to publish a very visible correction in next week’s paper. $64,000.00 vs 640K is a highly significant and very unfortunate misstatement of a crucial fact.

  2. So Mr. Zadeh wants us to buy that lame back pedal that he just wanted to get it on the ballot – he must think the people of Edgartown are stupid. Let’s vote this guy off the board at the earliest convenience.

  3. 99% of the fluoride taxpayer budget goes down the drain (washing, bathing, lawns, etc), making it one of the most wasteful deployments ever seen in government or business. The industrial fluoride molecule additive is NOT the same as the natural molecule. Fluoride is a topical agent at best, which acts only during the swish of solution across the teeth, and is NOT an essential healthy nutrient like iodine or vitamins– meaning, it should NOT be ingested or bathed in. Fluoridosis is a documented hazard of fluoride, which bioaccumulates– adding to the industrial byproduct chemical load burden on modern people’s biology and health. The 20th century science, ethics, and arguments for fluoridation are being challenged by 21st century knowledge and ethics, … and you can read some thorough modern arguments (with many citations) cautioning against fluoridation, here —
    YOUR SOVEREIGNTY, HEALTH, TAXPAYER BUDGET, & CONSENT TRUMP KNEEJERK DICTATED MEDICALIZING of ALL PUBLIC WATER WITH AN UNNATURAL AND UNNECESARY AGENT. There are cheaper and optional 21st Century alternatives, which respect choice, sovereignty, and the ‘Precautionary Principle’. There is NO public health emergency or urgency to fluoridate.

  4. From the American Dental Association website:
    Fluorosis isn’t a disease and doesn’t affect the health of your teeth. In most cases, the effect is so subtle that only a dentist would notice it during an examination. The type of fluorosis found in the United States has no effect on tooth function and may make the teeth more resistant to decay.

    • The ADA is a little behind the times. 57% of US kids and teens now have dental fluorosis, including 21% with “Moderate” and 2% with “Severe” degrees of this “subtle” non-disease.

      • Oldman gives a citation. You do not. So, he has met the burden of proof. A far as I can tell you are just making up stats.Let’s see some facts.

  5. To force fluoride or any drug on everyone without consent is immoral and should be illegal. A doctor or dentist cannot force that on ANYONE. They would lose their license to practice if they did.

    The whole world is aware that fluoridation is ineffective for teeth and dangerous to health. While 74% of the U.S. is fluoridated, only 5% of the world and only 3% of Europe do that. China and Japan have rejected it many years ago.
    Yet Europe’s tooth decay rate is as good as any fluoridated country.
    Why waste tax money and destroy health for everyone consuming this toxic industrial waste fluoride?

      • Islanduh, i am not against you / anyone fluoridating your self. But it is unethical and goofy expensive to force fluoridate all public waters, using an unnatural industrial toxic agent, which only acts through topical application at best, and therefore which wastes 99% of the budget. Most countries in the world, who also have top notch science and even better ethics than the US, they reject medicating public waters like this. Just let it be already, and take care of your own fluoride preference in your own home. 21st century science and ethics have convinced me that the 20th century fluoridation arguments i grew up with are way out of date. Here are scores of cautionary NIH citations for this…

  6. Yes, we watched this — we invested ourselves in this one minute wonder bread baloney sandwich highly processed nothingburger video. Yes, we were bored, we sighed, we noted the teleprompter eyes vacillating

  7. Their are many who believe flouride can harm ones health. It doesn’t matter who’s right. But it is ‘extremely expensive’ to remove it from the water. The best solution IMO is to leave it out. And let those who want flouride to brush with inexpensive ‘flouride toothpaste’ which is already present in the majority of toothpastes out there.

  8. One of the central cautionary conclusions of this critical fluoridation review is that people should be looking for ways to REDUCE their fluoride load, since it is not a nutrient, and there are many sources from which it is entering our bodies.

    …” 6. Conclusion

    The enthusiasm with which fluoride was introduced as a public health measure in the 1950s is gradually giving way to a more rational analysis of its benefits and costs as a caries prevention technology. This review argues that the modest benefits of ingested fluoride in caries prevention are thoroughly counterbalanced by its established and potential diverse adverse impacts on human health. Due to the abundance of this chemical, it is little surprising that humans ingest or inhale fluoride from a variety of sources. In the Hippocratic treatise titled Epidemics, the ethical principle in relation to controlling disease Primum non nocere (“do good or to do no harm”) was emphasised. This principle is, at best, not being fully observed in relation to fluoride-centred dental caries prevention interventions, given the established and potential harms currently attributed to fluoride.

    A change in the ideological approach to fluoride use for dental caries prevention is essential in the global public health community. An important change would be for the World Health Organization to repudiate its assertion that fluoride is an essential nutrient or trace element, or that artificial water fluoridation is a useful public health strategy. Resolution 4 of the 2007 World Health Assembly resolution 60.17 urges member states to “consider the development and implementation of fluoridation programmes” [90]. This statement is a reflection of current realities that artificial water fluoridation is not necessarily the most economical, effective, or affordable way to deliver fluoride to teeth in the 21st century [8, 9]. While the statement contrasts with the ringing endorsement provided by the World Health Organization for artificial water fluoridation as recently as 1994, continuing passive support for water fluoridation allows those promoting water fluoridation to use WHO endorsement as an argument for implementing fluoridation programmes [72]. Second, all nutrient values for fluoride need to be withdrawn, not least because it is irrational to have daily nutrient intakes for a hazardous substance whose mode of action is topical on teeth enamel. Third, coordinated global efforts to reduce adverse human health effects on fluoride need to start with ensuring that its introduction into water supplies is prohibited, occupational and industrial fluoride exposures and injuries are reduced to the minimum possible, and natural water systems with high fluoride content are defluoridated prior to being endorsed as “potable.” Finally, given that dental caries is the most common disease globally arising from bacterial infection [91, 92], efforts to develop safe technologies to address the disease deserve high priority. Unfortunately, advocacy for funding to develop nonfluoride approaches for dental caries prevention has so far been compromised by the “religious arguments” between antifluoridationists and profluoridationists.”.

  9. Fluoridation of water has the blessing and support of the American Dental Association. I am curious who these rational people, untrained in chemistry and medicine, believe benefits from fluoridation. Certainly not members of the American Dental Association, dentists lose the income for pricy restorative work.

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