Citizens debate whether fluoride should be in water supply

David Floyd • Updated Jul 6, 2017 at 11:22 PM

Tension boiled and words grew icy during a public meeting at the Jonesborough Senior Center on Thursday.

The subject? Fluoride in the water supply.

The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted in February to remove fluoride from the Jonesborough water supply, a decision that was scheduled to go into effect 120 days after the vote. The vote was 3-1 for the removal of fluoride, a material that has historically appeared in water supplies across the country because of its reputation as a fighter of cavities.

Arguments for and against were cast in various lights, with some attendees claiming fluoridation of all drinking water compromised individual freedoms to choose what they drank, and others citing the words of medical professionals who have espoused the health benefits of fluoride.

Ron Myers, a retired industrial engineer, has spent about 15 years researching the issue and spoke extensively during the meeting against the fluoridation of water. He helped organize the open discussion on Thursday, which started at 6:30 p.m. and lasted about an hour. About 20 people attended the meeting.

Myers claims many of the organizations expressing support for fluoridation have a vested interest in the issue.

“The underlying assumption by these vested interest groups is that fluoride is used to prevent cavities,” Myers said. “What they totally ignore is the fact that cavities are not caused by at deficiency in fluoride. They’re caused by consuming too much sugar.”

He said the American Dental Association, an organization that has expressed support for water fluoridation, wants to increase their membership and couldn’t care less about people’s health.

Lon Reed, a dentist and a volunteer for the remote area medical program, agreed that sugar was a problem but challenged Myers’ notion regarding the ADA.

“The ADA ... in my 30 some years of active duty, never said anything that I saw in any literature about having a mission to increase its membership,” he said. “It was to promote dental education and the dental health of the population.

“I believe that the adjustment of the water supply to an optimal level of fluoride is a definite, proven benefit, not only to children but to adults and to the elderly,” Reed said. “… I think it’s wrong-headed to take out properly adjusted fluoride from the water. I think you’re going to hurt children and hurt adults.”

Reed had several allies at the meeting.

Ed Wolfe, a retired pastor, said he was originally almost convinced fluoride should be taken out the water, but he was impressed and persuaded by what he described as the passion and concern expressed by medical professionals who spoke in support of fluoride at a BMA meeting.

“When I left I had a totally different attitude,” Wolfe said. “I know many of the people that are now sitting on the medical group that are trying to get the fluoride back in the water. These folks are not idle people that are looking for something to do. These are very busy physicians.”

According to an article by the Herald & Tribune, supporters of fluoridation have been meeting monthly at East Tennessee State University after the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s decision. The group of about 20 medical professionals includes Dr. David Wood, the chair of pediatrics at the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine; Dr. Joseph Florence, the director of rural programs at Quillen; and Dr. David Kirschke, the regional medical director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department.

Jon Lucas, the director of the Jonesborough Water Treatment Plant, also attended the meeting on Thursday and clarified some of the statements made by attendees and some misconceptions about the way the decision was made by the Jonesborough BMA.

Lucas said the $12,000 fluoridation price tag — an amount supporters of fluoride said was a drop in the bucket for the city — was not an issue that factored into the city’s decision to remove the fluoride.

“$12,000 is a very small amount of my budget — very small,” Lucas said. “It was definitely not based upon the money.” 

Lucas indicated several items factored into the aldermen’s vote, including a ballot that was sent out indicating about 60 percent of people polled supported removing fluoride. Lucas said the aldermen also witnessed firsthand how corrosive fluoride can be in large doses, an effect that is mitigated in drinking water, where it is heavily diluted.

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