Town employee quietly lowered fluoride in water for years

Richmond, Vt. and highlighting persistent misinformation surrounding water fluoridation.

Katie Mather, who lives in Richmond, a town of about 4,100 people in northwestern Vermont, told a water commission meeting this week that her dentist recently discovered her two children’s first cavities. She admits they eat too much sugar, but says her dentist recommended extra fluoride because the city water must be doing the trick.

“He was working according to state standards that we all thought we were meeting and giving professional advice,” Mather said. “It comes down to me not having the opportunity to give our informed consent.”

Adding fluoride to public drinking water systems has been common in communities across the United States since the 1940s and 1950s, but it is still not safe for some people, and many countries do not fluoridate water for a variety of reasons, including affordability.

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Critics argue that the health risks of fluoride are not fully understood and that adding it to municipal water can lead to unwanted medication; In recent years, some communities have stopped the practice. In 2015, the US Govt The recommended amount is reduced Some children have white spots on their teeth in the water they drink after drinking too much.

While such splotches are primarily a cosmetic problem, the American Dental Association says on its website that fluoride — the life-giving element salt, iron and oxygen — can be toxic in large amounts.

But at recommended levels, fluoride in water can reduce cavities or tooth decay by 25 percent, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that 73 percent of the U.S. population is served by water systems with adequate fluoride. Tooth protection. So it was a shock to some people in Richmond to hear that their water did not meet the standards.

Kendall Chamberlain, Richmond’s water and wastewater superintendent, told the Water and Sewerage Commission in September that he lowered the fluoride level because of concerns about changes in the source and recommended levels.

He said he is concerned about the quality control of fluoride used in US drinking systems because it comes from China — a statement that echoes reports of unsubstantiated Chinese fluoride that have circulated online in recent years.

And, he said, I don’t think the state’s recommended amount of fluoride is warranted right now.

“My duty is to exercise reasonable care and judgment in protecting the public health, safety and environment of my clients,” he said.

Chamberlain did not respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Two of the three fluoride additives that US water systems can use come from China because they have no domestic manufacturers, but all are subject to strict standards, testing and certification to ensure safety, CDC spokeswoman Tracy Boehmer said in an email. A spokeswoman for the Vermont Department of Health agreed that all supplements must meet those national standards.

Chamberlain’s decision upset residents and doctors.

“It is not fair to make a unilateral decision that someone may not be warranted by this public health benefit.” I think it’s disgusting,” said retired Dr. Allen Knowles at the Sept. 19 meeting. He said he had an 8-month-old granddaughter who thought she was getting enough fluoridated water.

“Fluoride is again one of the most successful and important public health measures ever taken in this country,” Knowles said. “Dental pain reduction is indisputable. You don’t establish safety based on one person’s opinion or one study or this or that.

Most water naturally contains some fluoride, but typically not enough to prevent cavities.

The mineral was first added to public water in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945. It is now common, although more prevalent in some states than others; Oregon, New Jersey and Hawaii have the lowest percentage of residents with fluoridated water, according to the United Health Foundation.

Fluoride is added to toothpaste and other environmental products and is found in some foods.

In sparsely populated and largely rural Vermont, 29 of 465 public water facilities voluntarily fluoridate, and more than half of residents served by the public system receive fluoridated water, according to the Vermont Department of Health. The state standard is based on federal recommendations.

Cities that fluoridate must maintain their standards within the state’s recommendations and submit monthly reports to the state health department.

In the year The state’s former fluoride program manager, who retired in 2019, tried to work with Chamberlain and his team in Richmond, and things improved for a while, but then fell through again, Robin Miller, director of the Office of Oral Health, wrote in an email to the AP.

Miller said she didn’t know the city’s fluoride numbers were consistently low until March of this year. After a site visit by the state in April, the standards had not improved, so Miller contacted the Richmond city manager in June, who asked her to attend a meeting in September.

At the second meeting Monday, where Katie Mather was concerned about her children’s teeth, Chamberlain — who does not live in town and appeared online — read a statement of apology.

“Words cannot express how sorry I am that this controversy has arisen,” he said. “Believe me when I say that it was always with good intentions based on mutual understanding. I promise to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

A former Richmond employee who worked under Chamberlain said his monthly report will be reviewed by the city manager and sent to the state.

“One does not just do whatever one wants. He’s bringing these reports to the chief, who signs them off,” said Eric Bailey, Johnson’s village administrator.

City Manager Josh Arneson said Chamberlain or other staff always told him standards were acceptable. He said he heard consistently low levels in June for the first time from the region.

The commission voted to return the water to full fluoridation. It is not clear whether anyone will face professional consequences; Staff issues were discussed in closed session.

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