WASHINGTON – M. Virginia Rosenbaum, 82, thinks the government is exposing the people of Western Maryland to tooth decay, brittle bones, cancer, even brain damage — by putting fluoride in their water.
That’s why Rosenbaum has been fighting fluoridation for decades, and why she plans to keep on fighting even though a federal court has tossed out her suit to stop fluoridation of the Cumberland and Frostburg water systems.
“The kids’ teeth are all white, marked with spots and brown and so forth,” she said. “If their teeth are like that what do their bones look like?”
But U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz dismissed a lawsuit by Rosenbaum and her organization, the Pure Water Committee of Western Maryland, ruling last week that they could not point to any injury they might suffer from fluoridated water.
And if they were worried about it, Motz wrote, they could buy bottled water.
That is little comfort to Rosenbaum, who will not drink bottled water because she says it is just repackaged New York tap water. Rosenbaum, who lives on a farm outside Frostburg, chooses to drink water from her well instead.
Her group sued on behalf of those residents who must drink from the public water system, saying on its Web site that fluoridation is an “act of terrorism” against water customers.
Nonsense, say city officials.
“I think that it’s very unfortunate that they’re using those arguments as scare tactics and I think that our mayor and council were very clear and that (the water) is a healthy product that the city provides,” said Cumberland City Administrator Andrew Fulghum.
The legal battle in Western Maryland is not unique — or new. Adding fluoride to U.S. public water systems has been an issue since the 1940s, said Linda Orgain, a specialist with the Food and Drug Administration. As studies showed that small doses of the substance prevented tooth decay, cities adopted fluoridation.
Now, about half of the U.S. population drinks fluoridated water, she said. In Maryland, the number just over 90 percent, according to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fluoridation bans in Cumberland have been enacted and repealed a handful of times since the 1960s, according to court documents. The issue re-emerged as an issue in 2000, when Cumberland voters approved a referendum overturning the most recent ban.
At the same time, Frostburg politicians who campaigned on a pro-fluoride platform won city elections, said Frostburg City Administrator Jeff Repp.
Both cities began fluoridating their water supplies in 2001, officials said.
Cumberland, which has its treatment plant in Bedford County, Pa., serves water customers there, in Allegany County, Md., and in Mineral County, W.Va. Frostburg draws its water from Garrett County to serve its own residents as well as several other small communities in Allegany County.
Rosenbaum said Tuesday she had not read Motz’s opinion or talked to her attorney, and had not decided how to proceed. Whichever route she chooses, she said, Cumberland and Frostburg officials have not seen the last of her.
“I haven’t given up in 60 years and when I’m in my grave I still won’t give up,” Rosenbaum said.