Wilmington Health Board says 'No' to fluoride

Wednesday, February 23, 2000
By R. J. Grubb

In a surprise vote Feb. 15, the Board of Health [Wilmington Mass., suburb of Boston] decided 2-1 not to recommend fluoridation in the town's water supply.

Fluoride is a mineral many believe prevents tooth cavities, yet in heavy doses it is toxic. Last April, the Board of Health was charged with investigating adding fluoride to the town's water supply, then report its findings at Town Meeting.

Since that time, Public Health Director Gregory Erickson began researching the issue. Drawing upon hundreds of essays, articles and government documents involving the issue of fluoridation, Erickson wrote "Fluoridation: A Discussion on Whether The Board of Health Should Order the Fluoridation of the Municipal Water Supply," a five-page study arguing why Wilmington should not fluoridate its water supply.

In the essay, Erickson cited contradictions within the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and health risks involved with fluoridation.

One such risk, Erickson noted, is that when fluoride is absorbed, it goes to the teeth and bones and can cause fluorosis of the teeth and crippling skeletal fluorosis.

Another risk which Erickson suggested is that despite its relatively widespread use, little is actually known about fluoridation, its effectiveness and safety.

In fact, all communities surrounding Wilmington add fluoride to their water supplies. Historically, the first Massachusetts communities - Danvers, Middleton, and Templeton - began fluoridation in 1951.
These days, fluoridation has been the norm for countless U.S. communities for just about 50 years. It is approximated that fluoridation has increased to 10,000 American communities, affecting close to 145 million people in the United States.

Yet despite these overwhelming numbers, controversy persists. In fact, "no agency [whether that be the AMA, the ADA, FDA, or the EPA] has determined that fluoride is safe," determined Erickson.

Dissenting voice

The one opposing vote at the Feb. 15 session came from board Chairman Dr. James Ficociello, a local dentist. At the meeting, he contended that "The National Institute of Health has said it [fluoridation] is safe and effective."

Reached for further comment, Ficociello said he strongly disagrees with Erickson's findings. "If you look at [Erickson's] report," Ficociello said, "it is filled with inaccuracies and half-truths. "

In fact, Ficociello maintained that "the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and the Surgeon General wholeheartedly support fluoridation."

"Unless these organizations are out to poison kids or are incompetent, then there's something seriously eschew," Ficociello argued. "The Board of Health is way off base."

Admittedly "disappointed and surprised" by the board's vote, Ficociello noted that "that's the way the process works. These people are they most heartfelt and hard-working people I know and you have to let the chips fall where they may."

The chips fell towards Erickson as board members Elizabeth "Libby" Sabounjian and Eugene Kritter agreed with his findings. At the meeting, Kritter said, "We're turning our water in this country into chemical soup."

Kritter, who started out as an advocate for fluoridation, found himself changing sides after a little digging on his own for information. "I started out for fluoridation. Then the more I read I changed my position," he said.

In fact, it was after he discovered a suggested correlation between osteoporosis and fluoridation that he took an anti-fluoridation stance. "There's [evidence] that suggests that as people age in fluoridated towns then you'll see increases in bone brittleness. From a quality of life standpoint, losing the use of hip is much more severe than wearing false teeth."

Also, Kritter pointed out that if the board voted "yes" last Tuesday, then it would essentially be "circumventing parental responsibility and personal choice."

According to Kritter, the law is ambiguous regarding a resident's recourse after the board makes its decision. "If the Board of Health orders fluoridation, then the citizens have 90 days to put it on a
referendum. Yet, if no one does so within that time, then how can an individual assert his opinion once the board has made its decision? The law isn't too specific."

As it stands, the specifics are that under state law, the only way for fluoridation to happen is for the Board of Health to order local water supplies to be fluoridated. "It must be [Health Board] ordered," explained Erickson. "There is no other way."

In Wilmington's case, health officials decided only to make a recommendation on the issue.

"It's better for the town to have a choice than for us to make it mandatory," Kritter asserted.

The alternative to fluoridating an entire community is that individuals still have the choice to fluoridate on their own. Fluoride is available as tablets, drops and topical treatments. It is argued that the alternative methods are not as effective as water fluoridation. Still, Kritter encourages residents to "study the fluoridation issue. To work with your dentist to see what's best for you regarding your own oral health."

Ficociello intends to keep the issue alive. "I have every intention of reporting my findings at Town Meeting in April," Ficociello said.

"Look at who is pro and who is con," added Ficociello, "and look with an objective eye as to who you will trust."


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