The debate over fluoridating public water could re-emerge in Maine in the coming years if a bill before the Legislature is approved.

The bill would make it easier for residents to place measures on the ballot that could result in fluoride being removed from municipal water supplies. The proposal already has drawn opposition from dentists, who say it would jeopardize public health.

Health experts champion the fluoridation of municipal water systems as one of the most important advances in public health of the 20th century, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But putting fluoride in the public water supply has always attracted opposition from people who are uncomfortable with chemicals being added to their water.

The Maine bill came about after a dust-up last year in towns served by the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District.

About 80 percent of Maine’s public water systems are fluoridated. But because many homes have private wells, only about half the state’s population gets water with added fluoride.

The practice started in Michigan in the 1940s and has spread throughout the country so that roughly 66 percent of the nation’s population now gets fluoridated water, according to the U.S. CDC.

A 2008 article in Scientific American questioned whether some populations – especially infants and the elderly – were ingesting too much fluoride because it also is found in many food and beverages, even soda.

Dr. John Doull, professor emeritus of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, chaired a 2006 National Research Council committee that examined fluoride research, and he told Scientific American that he was concerned about the potential effects of high concentrations of fluoride on the thyroid gland.

Doull also told the magazine he found the research lacking, despite decades of experience.

“We found that many of these questions are unsettled and we have much less information than we should, considering how long this (fluoridation) has been going on. I think that’s why fluoridation is still being challenged so many years after it began,” Doull told the magazine.

Fluoride also occurs naturally, and at high concentrations can cause brittle bones and pitted teeth. Some studies have linked high fluoride levels to intelligence deficits in children. In about 40 percent of private wells tested for fluoride in Maine, concentrations exceeded maximum levels recommended by the EPA.

The U.S. EPA recommends that drinking water contain no more than 2 milligrams of fluoride per liter.

At the Kennebunk water plant, about 0.2 milligrams is naturally occurring, so the water system adds about 0.5 milligrams to make the fluoride match optimum level under EPA guidelines. The water is continuously tested electronically, and is tested manually six times per day.


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