2016-08-12 / Community

On tap: Another round in fluoride fight

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Norm Labbe, superintendent of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, shows a control panel were solids and chemicals are added to help filter the water from Branch Brook, purifying it before it is pumped to customers. (Duke Harrington photo) Norm Labbe, superintendent of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, shows a control panel were solids and chemicals are added to help filter the water from Branch Brook, purifying it before it is pumped to customers. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — The long fight over whether to add fluoride to the public water supply has entered a new phase, with word this week of a successful petition drive.

According to Kennebunk resident Jan Hanson, her grass-roots group, “The Campaign to Reconsider Water Fluoridation,” received word last week that its petition was certified by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and will appear on general election ballots this fall in all seven towns served by the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport Wells Water District (KKW).

In addition to the three towns with their names in the title, KKW also serves Arundel and Ogunquit, along with coastal areas of Biddeford and York, for about 13,500 metered customers in all.


Norm Labbe, superintendent of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, and Kennebunk resident Jan Hanson of The Campaign to Reconsider Water Fluoridation, which is leading a November referendum vote to remove added fluoride from the KKW water supply, view the settling chamber of the Route 1 treatment plant in Wells, where solids are filtered out of the Branch Brook water supply (Duke Harrington photo) Norm Labbe, superintendent of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, and Kennebunk resident Jan Hanson of The Campaign to Reconsider Water Fluoridation, which is leading a November referendum vote to remove added fluoride from the KKW water supply, view the settling chamber of the Route 1 treatment plant in Wells, where solids are filtered out of the Branch Brook water supply (Duke Harrington photo) Following a public dust-up in 2014 when Hanson’s 10-member group last tried to get fluoride removed from the water sup- ply, two local legislators, Rep. H. Stedman Seavey (R-Kennebunkport) and Sen. Ronald Collins (R-Wells) tried to push through new rules that would allow customers of a water system to petition for the use, or not, of fluoride. But that bill died in committee, meaning the decision still goes to all voters in the KKW towns, even if not connected to the public water supply.

However, because some selectmen — acting on impassioned advice from local dentists, including James Trentalange of Arundel and Joseph Kenneally, a Kennebunkport resident practicing in Biddeford — blocked the 2014 attempt to remove fluoride, Hanson’s group has used existing Maine law to bypass the municipal boards and appeal directly to voters.

Having collected enough signatures to get on the ballot (submitting 3,249 names against the minimum 3,063 needed, representing 10 percent of the last gubernatorial vote in the seven KKW towns) the question will read, “Shall fluoride be added to the public water supply for the intended purpose of reducing tooth decay?”

A ‘No” vote by a majority of all voters in the towns service to any extent by KKW will be enough to stop the practice.

The Maine and U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Dental Association all support adding fluoride to water, for the purposes of reducing tooth decay. The practice began in Michigan in the 1940s and has since spread to public water systems serving about 66 percent of the total U.S. population. In Maine, 67 public water systems serving 132 towns add fluoride, although that only covers about 40 percent of all state residents, due to the number of private wells in use.

However, Hanson and her group question the effectiveness of fluoride in promoting strong teeth. Instead, they are more concerned about the chemical’s long-term impact on the human body, including brittle bones, pitted teeth, decreased mental clarity and lack of energy from fluorosis, or over-exposure to fluoride.

A 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the U.S. CDC found that 58 percent of American children now exhibit some form of fluorosis, with 21 percent displaying moderate fluorosis in at least two teeth, up from and average of just 2 percent measured in surveys conducted between 1999 and 2004.

According to Labbe, KKW water sources have fluoride in them as a naturally occurring element, at about 0.2 to 0.3 parts per million. Since 2004, when it began adding additional fluoride, KKW has spent about $20,000 per year, to bring the level up to the 0.7 parts per million recommended by the EPA and the Maine Drinking Water Program, Labbe said. However, he notes that fluoride is now found in many processed foods and beverages, as well as in the cryolite used as a pesticide in farming.

“It’s unquestionably the most toxic substance we deal with,” Labbe said during a recent tour of the KKW treatment plant on Route 1 in Wells, where he pointed to corroded brass and stainless steel fixtures in the rooms where the chemical is added to the water supply. Although never in direct contact with fluoride, just being in the same room with ambient exposure has rusted and pitted the metal fixtures, while clouding all windows a milky white.

“This stuff is used to etch glass, so what does that tell you,” Labbe said. “The general population is now getting so much more fluoride than was ever conceived of when fluoridation was originally founded 60 years ago. So, why add more?”

In February, the KKW board of directors voted unanimously to support an end to fluoridation.

“Since last voted upon in 2002, the district has been fluoridating the water it serves to its customers in accordance with the will of the voting public,” the directors wrote in a position paper issued at the time. “Since then, as a result of both the district’s extensive experience with the handling and addition of fluoride to its water supply and from the large amount of information that has since become available about the safety and efficacy of the ingestion of fluoride, the district is of the position that there is ample justification for the public to reconsider their decision.

“This is about more than the statistical reduction of cavities in the general population,” directors wrote, “It’s about unintended consequences, ethics, mass medication without a sensible dosage methodology and about the safety of the district’s customers and its employees.”

Labbe, who has been authorized by directors to promote their position, notes that fluoride is only effective as a topical application.

“If you take fluoridated drinking water and swish it around your mouth, yes, you’re getting, fluoride on your teeth,” Labbe said. “But once you swallow it, it’s known to have minimal if any benefit for the teeth. And yet it is already known from many scientific studies that there are risks to the human anatomy by consuming fluoride at the levels we are now seeing.”

One study, conducted by Ashley Malin and Christine Till of Ontario-based York University and published last year in the journal Environmental Health, even suggests a link between fluoride use and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

“Natural fluoride is not dangerous the way the hydrofluorosilicic acid [added to water] is,” Hanson said. “The hydrofluorosilicic acid that is added to water is highly reactive because it doesn’t have calcium added to it. So, therefore, when that is ingested into your body it goes straight into you bones, and that creates porosity, because it changes the crystalline structure of the bones. And, it is bio-accumulative, so, over time it creates problems with weakness in the bones. That’s one of the reason we have so many hip fractures in this country.”

For Hanson, her concerns about fluoridation began when caring for her mother, when a dental hygienist gave her Fluoridex toothpaste meant to preserve the teeth.

“Because she was bedridden and because we really couldn’t rinse very well, a lot of that fluoridated toothpaste remained on her teeth rather,” Hanson said. “And what happened from that prolonged exposure is that her teeth began to turn brown and fall off, because fluoride does weaken teeth, just as it does bones, when left on too long. So, that’s when I really began looking into fluoride and the more I read about it the more I realized this is a really toxic substance, and we have to be really careful about it.”

However, others, including many dentists, argue for the “substantial” health benefits fluoridated water, which the Maine CDC says can reduce cavities by about 25 percent.

“This is one of the most effective public health tools that we have,” said Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, who represented the American Dental Association when speaking in 2015 against the Seavey/Collins bill. “You don’t have to be reminded to do anything. If you drink water, it helps prevent tooth decay.”

Meanwhile, the anti-fluoridation forces are sometimes hobbled by conspiracy theorists who run rampant across the internet, claiming fluoride is used by the government was a means of mind control.

“You’ll find this is a polarizing topic,” Labbe acknowledged. “It is known that fluoride is used in many drugs for the purpose of calming people down. There is fluoride in many anti-depressants. But that is not our issue.”

Instead, the issue for KKW, Labbe said, is concern over a one-size-fits all government application of fluoridation levels, when the level needed to reap any benefit, before crossing the line into toxicity, can vary from person to person, and across age ranges.

“We really feel that the individual should be able to choose what he or she wishes to ingest,” Labbe said.

For that reason, KKW is sponsoring a forum at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 12, at Kennebunk Town Hall auditorium, with speakers both for and against the use of fluoride.

“Although our board has voted to support ending our use of fluoride, we serve the public, and our goal is provide all of the information people need, on both sides of the issue, in order to make the decision that is best for them,” Labbe said.

Fluoride forum

The Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Wells Water District will hold a public forum on the question of whether to discontinue the addition of fluoride to the public water supply, which will appear on the November general election ballot in all seven towns served by the district.

The forum, to be moderated by Wayne Adams, will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 12, in the auditorium at Kennebunk Town Hall, and will feature speakers for and against the use of fluoride.

For those unable to attend the forum, a link to video from the event will be posted to the website rethinkingfluoride.com, with links provided from the water district website, kkw.org.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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