Potsdam village board will vote on fluoridation before end of September
By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM – The village board will vote on whether or not to continue fluoridating municipal water either at its August or September meeting.
Village Administrator Greg Thompson said that after a meeting with officials from Walden, New York, which voted to drop its fluoridation program, and with a statement to the Board of Trustees from the St. Lawrence County Board of Health strongly supporting fluoridation, he feels the board will have all the information they need to make a decision on the issue.“Residents of St. Lawrence County are especially likely to suffer if the Village decides to stop providing this well-established safety measure,” said Board of Health President Dr. Andrew Williams in a notice to Potsdam. The board “strongly urges” the village to continue fluoridation.
“You can read reports all day long. There are thousands for and thousands against fluoridation,” Thompson said. He said the best advice he got from the representatives from Walden was to tell the board to “vote your heart and follow through.”
Mayor Ron Tischler, Trustee Abby Lee and Thompson met with officials from Walden . seeking information on what would be required of the Potsdam board if they choose to discontinue fluoridation, as Walden has.
“It was good to talk to someone who’s been through the process, and what the pitfalls are,” Lee said.
“They told us about their process, their thinking on it. They were very helpful.”
Advice from Walden
In particular, she said, they warned of the changing nature of applicable law, which has changed since Canton ceased fluoridation in 2003 and even since Walden voted to end treatment last October.
The state Department of Health has outlined what steps would have to be taken to end the water treatment, but since the law governing the process, Public Health Law 1100-a, has been undergoing changes, the department’s best advice to Potsdam has been to seek the help of lawyers, Lee said.
What is clear, she said, is that if the village decides to cease fluoridation, there is a process that must be followed, but if they simply replace the existing equipment and continue fluoridation, it is a much simpler operation.
Fluoridation of water for prevention of tooth decay has been a controversial topic for decades, with opponents claiming to have strong evidence that adding fluoride to municipal water is dangerous enough that it could compromise the health of people in communities where fluoridation is done.
But the county Board of Health says the preponderance of evidence, from informed and authoritative sources, overwhelmingly indicates of the benefit easily outweighs the little evidence of potential harm.
The county Board of Health has comprehensively laid out its position, which county Public Health Director Dana Olzenak McGuire has endorsed.
“You get where you can be swayed one way or the other very easily,” Thompson said. “There are very smart people on either side of the argument.”
The Board of Trustees awaits a report from consulting engineers on the condition of the current equipment and what would be required to replace it.
The board approved in April the expenditure of $9,900 for a study from Environmental Design and Research (EDR) laying out the cost options the village has if they wish to repair, replace or remove the 35-year-old equipment that has been adding fluoride to the village’s water.
The aim of the program has been to help stem tooth decay, especially in children.
County Board of Health Weighs In
The statement from the county Board of Health is advising Potsdam to keep with water fluoridation. The board’s statement follows:
“The St. Lawrence County Board of Health strongly urges the Village of Potsdam to continue fluoridation of water in the village.
“Fluoridation is a well-established, safe measure to improve the oral health and general health of children and adults in the community. Although dental health has improved for many Americans in recent decades, tooth decay remains the most common chronic childhood disease – five times more prevalent than asthma. Untreated tooth decay can undermine children’s ability to sleep, grow and learn. The health of our teeth and gums affects our ability to speak, eat, and communicate, and it can also impact our self-esteem, school or work performance, and social life. Decay and other dental problems can cause a person’s overall physical health to decline.
“Residents of St. Lawrence County are especially likely to suffer if the Village decides to stop providing this well-established safety measure. Thirty-seven percent of adults in our county report not visiting a dentist for a routine cleaning within the past year and 40% of our children have untreated tooth decay. Furthermore, emergency room visits related to untreated tooth decay have increased 161% during the last ten years.
“Fluoridated water is effective, because it keeps a low level of fluoride in the mouth, specifically in the dental plaque and saliva, all day. Even with the use of other fluoride products, such as toothpaste and mouth rinses, fluoridated water reduces tooth decay by 25% among children and adults. In communities with water fluoridation, school children have, on average, about 2 fewer decayed teeth compared to children who don’t live in fluoridated communities.
“The efficacy and safety of fluoridation of water is not simply a matter of opinion. The extensive scientific research on the matter has been reviewed, leading the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dental Association, Mayo Clinic, American Medical Association and many other respected medical and health organizations to recognize and endorse the health benefits of fluoridation. Most oral health problems are preventable. Fluoridation has been identified as the most feasible and cost-effective method of delivering fluoride to all members of the community, regardless of age, education, or income. These advantages combined with fluoridation’s contribution to dramatic declines in both the prevalence and severity of tooth decay led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to name water fluoridation as one of ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.
“The St. Lawrence County Board of Public Health strongly supports maintaining the fluoridation system for the village of Potsdam.
“Please feel free to contact the Board of Health with questions you may have: Andrew F. Williams, MD FACP (315) 386-2325,” the statement concludes.
On the other side of the argument, Dr. Paul Connett, a former member of St. Lawrence University’s chemistry faculty, has been campaigning against fluoridation for decades. He spoke last week at a meeting in Potsdam laying out his case, claiming the danger to health by added fluoride outweighs any potential dental health benefit.
Thompson said there is “no reason to delay a vote” by the trustees.
He said that will come either at the next meting Aug. 20 if no hearing is required, or if one is required, the board will at that meeting set the hearing date for the Sept. 4 meeting, after which the vote will take place.