Council votes 3-2 after long, contentious debate over additive’s merits.By Jason Schultz
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
For several hours Tuesday night, white lab coats and purple scrubs faced off against conspiracy theories and accusations based on Internet research as a debate that has raged nationwide since the 1940s resurfaced in Wellington.
After hours of heated debate between medical experts, residents and council members, the Village Council just before midnight Tuesday voted 3-2 to stop fluoridating its drinking water, effective Wednesday morning, after 14 years of adding the chemical to fight tooth decay.
The debate mostly centered on fluoride supporters saying science was on their side and opponents questioning the validity and motivations of that science.
“What if science is wrong right now?” said Councilman John Greene, who voted along with Vice Mayor Howard Coates and Councilman Matt Willhite to stop fluoridation. “I don’t see any harm in stopping this.”
The council first approved adding fluoride in 1999, said Village Engineer Bill Riebe, and started fluoridating a year later. Since then, Riebe said, the village had not received any reports of problems from health agencies or village residents related to fluoride.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls fluoridation of water to prevent cavities in children one of the greatest public health innovations of the past century.
More than a dozen students from Palm Beach State College’s dental hygiene program showed up in their purple scrubs to support continuing fluoridation.
But opponents called the support of fluoridation propaganda from the medical community and called fluoridation forced medical treatment.
Charlene Arcadipane argued the fluoride the village uses contains arsenic, and her husband, Lee Arcadipane, called it toxic waste from fertilizer production that is often contaminated with aluminum.
“That’s not a conspiracy, that’s a fact,” Lee Arcadipane said.
Riebe said arsenic was below detectable levels and village water meets state and federal standards. Fluoride supporters argued that the village should rely on medical experts, not people who surf the Internet and come up with conspiracy theories, to tell them whether the water is safe to drink.
“Use your heads, man,” said fluoride supporter and Wellington resident Ian Blake.
Phil Bilger, dental director for the Palm Beach County Health Department, said he didn’t consider fluoride a “drug” and no valid scientific studies prove fluoride causes any health problems.
“You can find all kinds of things on the Internet,” Bilger said.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said some of the information coming from opponent groups like the Fluoride Action Network was manipulated and “manufactured,” which made it hard to trust.
“Right now all the information we have based on science says we’re not doing something bad. We’re doing something beneficial,” Gerwig said.
Mayor Bob Margolis said the science is clear that fluoridated water reduces cavities.
“You can decide based on your feelings, but I will decide based on science and evidence,” Margolis said.
Coates said he did not doubt the positive health benefits but he objected to people being forced to ingest a chemical.
“I don’t think we can dispense with personal responsibility in this country,” Coates said.