Portland Press Herald
Fluoride Leave Our Water will gather signatures to force a vote in Portland Water District towns.
By DENNIS HOEY, Staff Writer June 8, 2009
PORTLAND — The debate over whether adding fluoride to drinking water provides a health benefit is about to begin again, just 13 years after a majority of Cumberland County voters agreed that fluoridation was medically beneficial.
A citizens' group based in Portland will announce today its plans to start a petition drive aimed at forcing the Portland Water District to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water it extracts from Sebago Lake.
That water, which contains 1 part per million of fluoride, flows through the taps of 11 Cumberland County communities. The district serves about 200,000 people.
"Our feeling is that adding fluoride to your drinking water is a decision that should be made by an individual. It should not be left up to the government to self-medicate the people," said Oliver Outerbridge, who is leading the effort.
The Portland resident and restaurant owner heads a group called Fluoride Leave Our Water. FLOW will hold a press conference today at 12:30 p.m. at the GRO Cafe, 437 Congress St., before its volunteers begin canvassing polling places during Tuesday's election.
Outerbridge said the Secretary of State's Office has told him the group must gather at least 8,954 signatures.
If FLOW can get that many signatures, a November referendum question would be presented to voters in the affected communities of Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Raymond, Scarborough, South Portland, Standish, Westbrook and Windham.
The group contends that while fluoride may have some value in preventing cavities, the substance is potentially dangerous when ingested in large amounts.
In a press release, Outerbridge said fluoride is "a universally recognized neurotoxin."
FLOW also says that fluoride is used in so many products that adding it to drinking water is excessive.
The Portland Water District began adding fluoride to the drinking water on Aug. 18, 1997, nearly one year after residents in Cumberland County voted 57,136 to 30,075 to add fluoride. In four other votes from 1963 to 1976, the proposal failed.
James Ortengren, a South Portland dentist, led the successful 1996 campaign to add fluoride.
Contacted Sunday night, he said he was surprised it had become an issue again.
Fluoride has been shown to prevent cavities and tooth decay, he said.
"All the science (that it's safe) is there. And there is no question about the science," he said.
Michelle Clements, spokeswoman for the Portland Water District, said the district plans to remain neutral.
"We'd be happy to stop using fluoride if our customers want that," she said.
However, Clements said, the district believes that adding such a small amount of fluoride to the water is safe. The American Dental Association, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control state on their Web sites that they also hold this view.