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Watertown City Council could be leaning to get rid of fluoride

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Could the Watertown City Council end up voting to take fluoride out of the city’s water supply?

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham thinks so.

If a vote was held now, Mr. Graham said, he believes there would be a “50-50” chance that the City Council would vote to get rid of the colorless, tasteless chemical that fights tooth decay.

So far, lobbying efforts by the local anti-fluoride movement have been effective, he said. And Paul H. Connett, a professor emeritus of chemistry at St. Lawrence University, Canton and head of Fluoride Action Network, gave a convincing presentation last week to the council about the risks of fluoridation.

As it appears now, Councilwoman Theresa R. Macaluso is the only member who would vote for eliminating fluoride from the city’s water supply, with Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. the only one who supports keeping it.

The other three — Jeffrey M. Smith, Roxanne M. Burns and the mayor — have not made up their minds, but Mr. Smith is leaning toward getting rid of it.

“Someone has to convince me that it does more good than harm,” Ms. Macaluso said. “I think there’s merit in what the anti-fluoride group has to say.”

Ms. Macaluso, a former hospital nurse, went on to say, “I am open-minded, but if I had to vote today, I’d say no.”

In research he has done on his own and speaking with people, Mr. Butler said, he agrees with the overwhelming opinion in the professional medical community that supports fluoride.

“I think fluoridation is still suitable for the city of Watertown at this point,” he said.

Mr. Smith said he doesn’t believe the city would add fluoridation now if it were not already in the city’s system. When the process became popular decades ago, communities just decided to add it because there was no history of problems with it, he said.

Even with the lobbying and debate about the subject in recent months, Mr. Graham does not see a vote on the horizon to remove fluoride from the city’s water system.

“I think it’s harder to get rid of something than to get something started,” he said, adding he remains “open-minded” about the issue.

Stressing that she has not made up her mind yet, Ms. Burns said she believes fluoride is beneficial, although it does not necessarily have to be ingested to fight decay. Fluoride is contained in toothpaste, she said.

As for whether the council will vote on the issue, Ms. Burns said the debate will continue.

“Someone is going to have to feel strongly enough to bring up a resolution,” she said.

While most of the discussion has come from anti-fluoride people, a pro-fluoride expert will address the council next month to discuss why the city should keep fluoride.

Dr. Jayanth Kumar, director of the state Department of Health Dental Bureau, is scheduled to attend the June 10 City Council work session to give his views on fluoride. Dr. Kumar, who could not be reached for comment, and his office have issued numerous papers in support of fluoridation.

The regional chapter of the New York State Dental Association and individual dentists also support fluoridation. They say fluoride fights decay and should remain in the water supply. They also contend that reputable studies prove fluoridation is safe.

Dr. Andrew E.C. Crossley, president of the Jefferson-Lewis County Dental Society, said he hopes council members decide to keep it and would be disappointed if fluoride is removed because it’s a benefit to the public.

“It might be premature to make a judgment until the other side is heard,” Dr. Crossley said.

City Water Superintendent Michael J. Sligar is still gathering a group of experts to study the issue. He remains a fluoride proponent, but said it’s a council decision. Mr. Sligar also said that most of the debate has come from the anti-fluoride forces.

“In my view, they have not made their case,” he said.

In recent months, Watertown Anti-fluoridation Action, a group of more than 40 residents, has been attending council meetings to lobby the City Council to remove it. The city began adding fluoride to its water in 1962.

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