Public water in Oak Bluffs has been fluoridated for more than two decades.
But when the three members of the town board of health vote on the issue in the coming months, that may change.
The board held a hearing last week on the removal of fluoride from town water. They will hold another hearing in the coming months. Board member and chiropractor John Campbell, who said he would make strong recommendations against fluoridation, brought the subject to the table this year, pressing for reconsideration of an issue that has gone mostly untouched for two decades.
Sodium fluoride is fed into the water system at each of the four major pumping stations in town and is present at about .8 parts per million, an amount determined by the state Department of Public Health.
Oak Bluffs is the only Island town that fluoridates the public water supply.
“To me the issue is, does anybody have the right to tell me what medication I am to take and that I have to pay for?” Dr. Campbell said at the hearing Monday.
John Casey and Mary Ellen Casey, two of three residents present for the hearing, also spoke in opposition to the practice of fluoridation. They said fluoride is toxic, and can even be damaging to teeth and bones.“It is time for us to recognize that fluoride has serious risks that outweigh any benefits,” Mr. Casey said.
Island dentists have supported fluoridation of the water supply, calling it a public health effort that is proven to prevent tooth decay. No dentists attended the hearing, but Dr. Campbell said they had contacted the board with their feedback. Mr. Casey said he felt many dentists were afraid to speak out against fluoride.“They face being kicked out of the dental profession if they start talking against fluoride,” he said. “They just don’t do it.”
The water district, which has advocated for the removal of fluoride, has estimated that it costs the town $15,290 a year to fluoridate the water. While the board of health members said their concern was health, and not cost, Dr. Campbell expressed a concern that much of the additive is wasted. “Ninety per cent of it goes into the groundwater through your shower, your dishwasher, your washing machines, when you water your lawns,” he said.
Still, board member Patricia Bergeron said dental care is not available to all young people. For them, town water may be their only source of fluoride.“It is a big issue, it really is,” she said. “As many articles as you are going to find against it you are going to find for it.” Dr. Campbell questioned whether people who don’t want fluoride in their drinking water should have to buy bottled water. He worried that the selective removal of fluoride with a distiller was a cost many cannot afford.
Resident Laurie Howick said she was still undecided about fluoridation, but was alarmed by what she had heard at the hearing.
She said growing up in the 1950s in California, fluoridation was a subject of debate. “I know everyone I knew at my age, when water was not fluoridated, they had every tooth in their mouth filled by the time they were 10 years old,” she said.
“It seems like it has reduced the cavities for children significantly.”
The board agreed that they would pursue more feedback from Oak Bluffs citizens. “We need more input,” Dr. Campbell said. “We are not going to ramrod anything through to the people like it was ramrodded before.”
The town voted to fluoridate the water in 1987, although the actual practice began in 1991 with a $32,000 state public health prevention block grant.
The board of health will hold another public hearing in the coming months. The hearing will be held in the evening, so more people can attend.