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Corning fluoridation measure comes up short at the polls

Corning, N.Y.—In the end, a ballot measure to prohibit the city council from enacting legislation to fluoridate Corning's water supply won by only nine votes, 1,395-1,386.

The final vote, held up for several weeks because of a recount in another race, was disappointing to a coalition that worked for more than two years to bring fluoridation to the community.

"It is extremely frustrating to have worked on this for two-and-a-half years and come up nine votes short," said Dr. Tom Curran, a retired oral surgeon who practiced for 37 years in Corning, Elmira and Waverly, N.Y. "And for the last five months before the election, I worked seven days a week on the campaign."

Dr. Curran currently is the only dentist on the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant Advisory Board in New York State and is on the steering committee for the New York State Oral Health Coalition. For this coalition he is the committee chairman for water fluoridation.

Long before the proposition landed on the November 2008 ballot in Corning, the city's then mayor, the health board, local dentists, physicians and others had been working toward fluoridation.

The city council OK'd an engineering study to determine the cost to fluoridate in July 2006 and received an initial estimate of $340,000 to fluoridate four city wells. One of the four wells provides 93.5 percent of Corning's water supply and a second well provides the remaining 6.5 percent, explained Dr. Curran. The other two wells are backup water sources used only once a year, so the coalition requested and received a waiver from the state health department so that only two wells would need to be fluoridated, reducing capital costs to $196,000.

In November 2006, the city council voted to approve fluoridation if the coalition could raise $100,000 in capital costs.

Grants totaling $100,000—more than half the project's capital costs—were raised by May 2007. But by mid-2007, said Dr. Curran, resistance from city officials led to the referendum that would alter Corning's charter to eliminate its authority to fluoridate.

Dr. Curran said his coalition worked to educate voters to vote "no" to the proposition, so that the city council could retain control over the decision to fluoridate. Local dentists sent more than 6,000 letters and brochures to their patients who were registered voters, informing them of the proposition and the public health benefits and safety of fluoridation. The former mayor, who had supported efforts to fluoridate, also sent letters to his supporters asking them to vote "no" to Proposition 1.

The coalition also ran an ad in the local newspaper with the names of the 35 local dentists, 21 dental hygienists, 35 physicians and 22 other health professionals, including nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and others who urged readers to "keep the authority to decide on fluoridation where it belongs, with Corning's elected officials."

Some 1,900 voters chose not to vote on the proposition, said Dr. Curran, voters who may have been confused by the issues involved.

"It was a labor-intensive grassroots campaign," said Dr. Curran.

Grants from the ADA Foundation, the New York State Dental Foundation and three local dental societies—the Seventh District Dental Society, Steuben Dental Society, and Bi-County Dental Society—have been returned but may be accessed in the future for use in Corning. Donations from individuals in support of the fluoridation project are being held through a community foundation and donors will be able to redesignate how their contributions are used for oral health, he added.