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Southern Vt. town revisits fluoridation


By Patrick McArdle, Times Argus:

BENNINGTON — Voters in Bennington will be asked in March to weigh in on whether they want the town’s water supply fluoridated but the question is only advisory.

Bennington Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau said petitions had been submitted to her office on Friday with the question, “Shall the town of Bennington improve the oral health of its citizens by adjusting the natural level of fluoride in the Bennington water system to a level recommended for preventing tooth decay?”

Barbeau said the Bennington Oral Health Coalition needed 412 valid signatures from Bennington voters to have the question added to the ballot and submitted petitions with 523 total valid signatures.

As an advisory only question, a positive vote would not mean the town would have to fluoridate its water supply but the outcome would provide information on how residents feel about the issue, which has been controversial in the past.

The Bennington Oral Health Coalition, which was started as a workgroup looking at issues of poverty in Bennington, is planning a public presentation from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the Bennington Fire Facility on River Road.

Sue Andrews, a member of the coalition, said there will be a panel of experts, including doctors, dentists and toxicologists, who will make a brief presentation of information followed by a question-and-answer period. Both questions and answers will be limited in time in order to allow as many people as possible to ask questions.

“This is really about giving the voters of Bennington an opportunity to ask questions and make comments so our focus is going to be getting as many voices to the microphone or the podium or whatever as possible,” Andrews said.

There are also plans being made to have questions submitted in advance through the coalition’s website or by phone.

The coalition members are recommending that the level of fluoride, which occurs naturally in water, be adjusted to 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter, a level recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service. Bennington’s water is currently at 0.11 milligrams per liter.

The goal is to increase the overall oral health of Bennington. Andrews cited a study released in the fall which found that three of the schools where students had the greatest oral health problems were in Bennington County and two of those schools were in Bennington.

“One of the things that we’re very aware of is that this is a highly charged issue. There’s science and then there’s an issue that there are people who feel that the science is challenged by other scientific studies,” Andrews said.

Opponents of fluoridation have raised several issues, including questions about its health benefits, the cost of adjusting the fluoridation level in Bennington’s water supply and whether the change would be unfair to those who don’t want the fluoridated water but would be unable to opt out.

Charles Gingo, another member of the coalition, said when they had come together after the community visit organized by the Vermont Council on Rural Development in 2012, they had not been formed to urge residents of Bennington to accept fluoridation. However, after several years of looking at the most effective and economic way to improve the community’s oral health, the coalition members had decided to bring the question back to the town.

Bennington has looked at fluoridation several times, first in 1963 and most recently in 2002, but the issue has either been defeated or tabled in the past.