Anti-fluoride activists who felt brushed aside when OWASA canceled a public meeting last month took their fight to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, lobbying elected leaders to throw their weight behind an effort to keep fluoride out of Carrboro and Chapel Hill’s drinking water.
The aldermen listened to 21 speakers, the majority of whom opposed fluoridation. Many spoke of health issues they linked to fluoride, including arthritis and thyroid problems. Others said drinking fluoridated water amounted to being medicated without their consent.
“Every time I pick up a glass of water, I’m being drugged, and I have a problem with that,” Carrboro resident Jackie Helvey told the board. “I think that you all should have a problem with that. I don’t know how anybody can look at what fluoride is and not see that it shouldn’t be in the water. To me, it’s an acid, it’s a poison, and I don’t want in my water.”
Half a dozen people spoke in favor of fluoridation to prevent cavities, including Dr. Jane Weintraub, former dean of the UNC-CH School of Dentistry. She called it a cost-effective, equitable approach to public health with a long track record of success.
Carrboro and Chapel Hill’s water supply has not been fluoridated since February, when equipment malfunction and human error resulted in an overfeed of fluoride at the Orange Water and Sewer Authority’s Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant.
Earlier this spring the OWASA board voted 7-1 to reintroduce the chemical in late September once equipment and safety procedures are fully updated. Yinka Ayankova, one of Carrboro’s two representatives on the OWASA board, cast the lone vote against re-starting fluoridation.
Alderman Sammy Slade on Tuesday offered a resolution asking both of Carrboro’s representatives to lobby the OWASA board to stop fluoridating the water supply. The resolution characterized fluoride as a medical treatment and argued aldermen and their representatives could not ethically offer adequate informed consent on behalf of Carrboro’s residents.
Ayankova called the resolution a “wishful suggestion,” noting that two members would not be enough to prompt the nine-member OWASA board to revisit their decision.
Alderwoman Bethany Chaney went further, saying she’s concerned about the precedent it might set if the aldermen were seen to be trying to micromanage OWASA’s board.
“I don’t think that you want elected officials to be running the water system,” she said.
Mayor Lydia Lavelle said any comprehensive discussion of fluoridation should take place at the county level, led by OWASA officials. The board opted not to vote on the resolution, but noted interest in the issue was not likely to dissipate.
“I think that the people who are concerned and opposed to fluoridation have some very real concerns,” said Alderwoman Jacquie Gist. “Because I’m not a scientist, I don’t know how to address those concerns, but there’s something happening, and there’s something going wrong that people are connecting with fluoride. I would like us, instead of having a ‘yes fluoride, no fluoride’ conversation, to have more of a conversation of what the hell is going on.”