Bruce Rideout was expecting a different reaction. He thought his recent email to the Madison Water Utility questioning its addition of fluoride to drinking water would get a curt reply, or none at all.
Instead, Rideout began hearing "from all these people strongly encouraging me" to raise the issue at the Water Utility Board's next meeting on Tuesday, March 24. (It's at the Water Utility, 119 E. Olin Ave., 4:30 p.m.)
"I was kind of taken aback," says Rideout, a town of Blooming Grove resident whose water comes from Madison. "It was almost as if they were waiting for somebody to come forward."
Among those who replied was board president Jon Standridge. He expressed his view, prompted by a Wisconsin Water Association session on the subject, that Madison "should probably readdress the issues of continuing fluoridation" in light of "new information that has become available since the decision" to fluoridate Madison's water was made in 1948. And while local public health authorities back fluoridation, Standridge advised, "I do not see this as a closed issue, but one that merits further discussion."
Rideout, who plans to attend next week's meeting, agrees some arguments against fluoride run to the "conspiratorial." But he's also seen articles "from highly competent scientists" suggesting that fluoride in water may do more harm than good.
Fluoride, naturally present in most water sources, is added to reduce the incidence of tooth decay. But some dispute whether this is effective, and link fluoride to an increased risk of hip fractures and other maladies. Even Madison recognizes that fluoride can be harmful; in August 2007 it shut down a well that was adding too much of it.
"There are a litany of health hazards related to fluoride," says Rideout, noting that people have died from ingesting large amounts. "I have serious questions about the addition of a toxic chemical to water."
While most large municipal water systems add fluoride, 361 of the state's 614 water systems do not. Some communities have rejected calls to add the chemical.
Last July, the village of Poynette in Columbia County stopped adding fluoride, which one local official dubs "poison." In response, the Madison and Dane County Public Health Department launched a fluoridation review.
"We initiated it ourselves," says Tommye Schneider, the department's director of environmental health. "We wanted to be prepared, in case this issue started coming up in Dane County."
Completed in January, the review (PDF) called "the continuation and expansion" of fluoridation "a public health imperative."
Tom Heikkinen, Water Utility general manager, notes that "fluoridation of drinking water systems has been a subject of debate since it was started." His office frequently gets letters and emails on the subject.
And while Heikkinen is confident "there is no harm in fluoridating our water supply," he says the Water Utility Board is interested in exploring the issue further. The use of fluoride is now required by city ordinance.
"From our perspective," says Heikkinen, "this is a public policy decision that should be made by elected officials."
No Watchdog allowed
The Dane County Republican Party has banned the guy who writes Isthmus' popular Watchdog column from its public events because it did not like a web article about its election night party last Nov. 4.
"If you show up, you won't be invited in," says Bill Richardson, the county GOP spokesman. "The freedom of our speech is to allow people in or not. You're one we don't allow in."
The web offering interviewed attendees and included snippets of overheard conversations ("You know, it wouldn't surprise me if the Democrats started using the Koran"). It noted that one local Republican, without apparent protest, handed out a transparently fraudulent letter from a "German Lady" warning Americans of the many similarities between Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler. (The email is posted along with the article.)
Richardson praised Isthmus' web article on Nov. 5, the day it was published. "We were glad you attended our party to watch the elections last night and appreciate you taking the time to listen to a wide range of opinions offered," he wrote as a posted comment. "You...could have been with people who shared more closely your views and their popcorn with you - in happy contentment. Instead you talked, listened, overheard, read the views of others and wrote it up for all to read."
Sometime afterward, presumably after drawing flak from his fellows, Richardson amended his comment to liken the report to a turd left in a punch bowl by a wedding guest.
Richardson, in an interview, insinuated that the story was inaccurate but hung up without providing specifics. Call it the freedom of his speech.
Yes, we have no misconduct
A city of Madison internal review has cleared Human Resources director Brad Wirtz and City Engineer Larry Nelson of misconduct (see "Allegations Fly at Water Utility," 12/18/08).
A 12-page Department of Civil Rights report, completed in February and provided to Isthmus, found both men blameless for a conversation in which they speculated about a sexual relationship involving two Water Utility employees.
The employee who complained alleged that Nelson "yelled" his alleged comments; the investigators found no evidence to support this. But it did say loose talk about the matter by an unidentified Human Resources employee "should be a concern."
It was the second major probe in recent months to fully exonerate high-ranking city officials of alleged misconduct (see "Briski Cleared in Probe," 3/6/09). Indeed, both called the honesty and integrity of the complainers into question.
In its own review ("Cieslewicz's Office Closes Door on Complaints," 1/9/09), the mayor's office suggested Nelson was wrong to have discussed the issue with Wirtz. But the Department of Civil Rights deemed this an appropriate discussion. It also found no evidence to support that Nelson retaliated against one of the employees.
County withholds death-probe report
Dane County officials are stonewalling on releasing the findings of a state investigation into the death of six-year-old Deshaunsay Sykes-Crowder.
The state gave its preliminary report to the county in late February and a final report sometime last week, officials confirm. Leslie Hamilton, assistant corporation council for Dane County, last Friday apprised Isthmus, "I think it's safe to assume that the final report will be available from the county for release to the public sometime today." But as of press time, no report. Hamilton on Tuesday said she's "still waiting for the decision of the record custodian," whom she did not identify.
Earlier, Hamilton suggested the report would not be released until it was reviewed by County Executive Kathleen Falk. State law says requested records must be released "as soon as practicable and without delay."
Hmmm, why do we suspect the county may deem April 8 an ideal release date?