Clean, pure water — who doesn't want that? The fact is, adding minerals to the drinking water, when carefully monitored, can be a good thing. The Andover Water Department annually releases a report indicating levels of additives, and mostly, to an educated public, there is no controversy.
Tell that to Andover residents in the 1960s.
As early as 1952, Andover dentists met with representatives of various civic organizations and schools to explain what they felt was the principal dental health problem in the community.
At the time, Massachusetts had one of the highest tooth decay rates in the country — double the average. Water fluoridation, which saw success in reducing decay in other towns, was suggested as something to consider. Already approved in principle by the American Dental Association, fluoridation was said to "compare favorably with such public health measures as pasteurization, chlorination and immunization.''
The 1956 Town Meeting approved the addition of fluorine, but first a separate chemical equipment room at the Haggett's Pond pumping station was needed. Fluoridation remained in flux.
Early in 1957, it was suggested that the power to enforce fluoridation rested entirely in the hands of the Board of Health. Opposition to this opinion appeared in a 1957 Town Meeting article, asking voters to rescind the previous year's approval and to request that the Public Works Department sell equipment purchased thus far.
The Health Board reaffirmed its support of water fluoridation.
But the residents of Andover have always liked to have the last word. And while the previous approval was upheld, those opposed continued the fight.
The strongest show of opposition rallied during the town elections and Town Meeting of 1961. Fluoridation became a key debate issue among the various candidates. Prior to Town Meeting, the Townsman published statements for and against fluoridation.
Board of Health Chair Robert Walsh presented points of support, concluding, "We ask the voters to reaffirm their confidence in the Board of Health and the wisdom of Town Meeting action in 1956 and 1957, by authorizing the continuation of the addition of fluorine to our water supply.''
The opposition vote was penned by Cornelius Wood, son of textile magnate William Wood, on behalf of the Andover Citizen Rights Association. In part, he said, "The profluoridites display a shocking lack of responsibility towards this community to attempt to force upon us a fad, medical uncertainty, an experiment of such dangerous potential, I object to be their guinea pig.''
This year, 1961, basic rights won over medical assurances, and the town rejected fluoridation by more than 1,000 votes. Fluoride addition was stopped, but the greater issue was not. Debate continued to 1969, when the Board of Health announced a re-introduction of fluoride. Original machinery for the addition of fluoride had been retained, and the move was set to get underway in April.
In announcing this decision, members stated, "We (make this decision) with full confidence that this is for the betterment of the health of the citizens of our community.'' A Superior Court hearing, brought forward by opposition residents, upheld the Board of Health decision.
In a nod to the request of residents in 1961, the Water Department announced it would make available to residents water from the Abbot Well that would only contain water's natural fluoride. A tap would be maintained for their convenience. (This well, however, was shut down in 2010. No locations for untreated water currently are available.)
The last major effort by anti-fluoridationists came one year later, in 1970. The group petitioned Town Manager Maynard Austin to look into the purchase of insurance to protect residents from any health effects of fluoridation. The group also asked to have the state Department of Health come to Andover to determine the fluoride content of the town from all sources.
Both requests were unanimously opposed by the Board of Selectmen.