GREENFIELD — After hearing overwhelming opposition from residents, the town’s Board of Health has decided not to support community water fluoridation.
In October, the Community Health Center of Franklin County suggested the town consider adding fluoride to its public water supply after a dental hygienist found a significant amount of tooth decay and oral health problems in young children while visiting local schools. The Board of Health held two public meetings to gather input on the issue, and ultimately decided not to support it due to its potential impact on local businesses, significant opposition from residents and “underwhelming” statistics about its effectiveness at preventing tooth decay.
“There were numerous citizens who voiced their concerns at both of our meetings,” Board of Health Chairman Dr. William Doyle said. “The Board of Health reviewed voluminous literature, both pro and con on the subject of fluoridation, we read many letters addressed to the board from citizens mostly opposed to fluoridation, and we also read generally unfavorable letters to the editor concerning fluoridation.”
Doyle said the board heard from residents who said the public should not be medicated without permission, complaining of a lack of informed consent with community fluoridation.
“I think most of us were impressed with the public comments, really,” he said. “The people who were against it really came out in force and, quite frankly, some of their comments resonated with me and the board.”
Advocates of community fluoridation said it’s an easy and effective way to reduce the incidence of tooth decay in town. Edward Sayer, CEO of the Community Health Center, previously told the board water fluoridation gets a big return on investment, contending every dollar spent on community fluoridation winds up saving an average of $38 in dental costs.
When making its decision, Doyle said, the board relied heavily on information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 Community Preventive Services Task Force. He said the task force found no severe harm from water fluoridation and that communities with water fluoridation had a 15 percent decrease in dental cavities.
Board members agreed that 15 percent was an underwhelming figure.
Health board member Steven Adam said he was in favor of fluoridation when he first heard the proposal, but changed his mind during the public input process.
“The opponents of fluoridation were very persuasive, and the statistics, to me, just didn’t add up to something that would have ultimately benefited the town,” he said.
Doyle said the board also heard from local food manufacturers, including Dan Rosenberg of Real Pickles and Garth Shaneyfelt of Artisan Beverage Cooperative, who said they didn’t know how fluoride in the town’s water might impact their organic, all-natural food process, and discussed possibly having to invest tens of thousands of dollars into reverse osmosis systems to remove fluoride from the water.
“I found that was something that was not on our radar whatsoever,” Public Health Director Nicole Zabko said.
For board member Tammy Mosher, the cost of implementing a fluoridation processing program in town was the biggest issue. Doyle said it could cost the town around $750,000.
He said the board has discussed community fluoridation at least three times since the late 1960s. He said it was defeated overwhelmingly in the March 1968 elections, and hotly debated again in 1976 and 1996, but was not supported either time by the board.
In Greenfield, only the Board of Health has the authority to order community fluoridation. Once authorized, however, the decision can be challenged in a referendum if 10 percent of the population petitions for it.
Doyle said although the board did not support fluoridation, there are other ways to prevent tooth decay, including fluoride toothpaste, rinses and pills for children.
“I think we should be looking at how we can help, and that is bringing some of these procedures into the schools via people who are qualified, like the people at the Community Health Center,” he said.