The longtime water superintendent for a small town in Vermont has resigned in protest after local officials ordered him to restore the town’s water to the state’s standard for fluoride levels—which he had been secretly and unilaterally lowering for years due to his own personal anti-fluoride beliefs.
And his righteous, five-page resignation letter offered yet another bombshell in the small-town water scandal that has made national headlines in recent weeks. He asserted that he had been surreptitiously lowering the town’s fluoride levels for much longer than previously known—for over a decade rather than the nearly four years officials had previously disclosed.
Restoring the town’s water to the state-recommended fluoride level “poses unacceptable risks to public health,” the now-ex water superintendent, Kendall Chamberlin, wrote in his resignation letter, according to local media. “I cannot in good conscience be a party to this.”
Chamberlin held the title of water superintendent for 37 years in Richmond, Vermont, a town of about 4,100 in the northwestern part of the state. But apparently in that time, he failed to mention to his fellow residents that he had been taken in by unfounded fears that fluoridated water is harmful.
Unfounded and exaggerated concerns about fluoride in drinking water have long simmered in some segments of the population since routine water fluoridation began in the US in the 1940s. Generally, fluoride is added to drinking water to improve dental health. Numerous studies have found that fluoridating water is a safe and cost-effective way to reduce the number and severity of dental caries (tooth decay and cavities). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drinking fluoridated water reduces decay by about 25 percent in adults and children.
Over the years, fluoride skeptics have raised concern and fears that the intervention could cause harm—risk of cancers and effects on children’s IQs are among the most common concerns. Experts readily note that fluoride can, like almost anything, be harmful at high levels. Additionally, numerous studies, meta-analyses, and regulatory reviews have noted that there is not a lot of high-quality data looking at all the possible effects of fluoridating community water.
But evidence of harms is also lacking. While some animal studies and observational studies have claimed to find links between fluoridated water and cancers or cognitive problems, many others have not. And of those claiming links, most have flaws and/or a lot of uncertainty. Some have even been discredited.
Overall, fluoridating community water has been endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, and the American Public Health Association, among other scientific and medical organizations. The CDC estimated in 2016 that nearly 73 percent of the US population served by municipal water systems receives fluoridated water.
Still, that hasn’t stopped some from making their own assessments and coming to the opposite conclusion, such as Chamberlin. According to local news outlet Seven Days, Chamberlin first acknowledged to town officials on September 19 that he had long been lowering the town’s fluoride to roughly half the state’s standard, due to his own beliefs. He effectively acknowledged that he did not provide notification or seek approval for the change.
In his resignation, Chamberlin defended his professional reputation and argued that the town’s use of fluoride is voluntary and the levels are not mandated by the state. But, as the Associated Press has reported, while fluoridating municipal water is voluntary in the state of Vermont, towns that participate in the state’s fluoridation program—such as Richmond—”shall control the level of fluoride” to stay within the state’s standard range, according to state rules. Chamberlin also revealed in his resignation that he had been keeping the fluoride levels low since 2011.
Town residents have expressed shock and outrage at Chamberlin’s actions. Richmond’s town manager, Josh Arneson, told Seven Days that water department staff have been consistently maintaining the state’s standard for fluoride levels—between 0.6 parts per million and 0.7 parts per million—since October 5. He also said that he and the town’s Water and Sewer Commission will review water fluoride levels monthly from now on.