Richmond Water Superintendent Resigns Over Fluoride Levels | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » News

Richmond Water Superintendent Resigns Over Fluoride Levels

By

Published October 19, 2022 at 1:49 p.m.
Updated October 25, 2022 at 7:53 p.m.


Kendall Chamberlin - SUBMITTED
  • submitted
  • Kendall Chamberlin
The water superintendent who cut the fluoride levels in Richmond's drinking water has resigned in protest of the town’s Water and Sewer Commission vote to restore the levels to state standards.

Kendall Chamberlin, who has worked for Richmond for 37 years, tendered his resignation on Monday in a letter to town manager Josh Arneson.

He said he did not believe that the town’s decision ordering him to immediately return fluoride levels to 0.7 parts per million was “legally required, scientifically sound” and “poses unacceptable risks to public health.”



“I cannot in good conscience be a party to this,” Chamberlin wrote.

Chamberlin's letter said his resignation was effective at 5 p.m. on Monday. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Seven Days first reported that Chamberlin acknowledged at a September 19 Water and Sewer Commission  meeting that for years he had kept fluoride levels in the water at roughly half the level recommended by the state. He told commissioners he did so out of his personal preference to limit the chemical additives to drinking water and effectively acknowledged he never informed town officials.

In his five-page letter, Chamberlin defended his professional reputation and wrote that he’d always fulfilled his duties “diligently and faithfully.”
He noted that he had scrupulously tested the town’s water and reported the fluoride levels to town officials and two state agencies for decades. He added that he had never received a negative performance review nor had his water system operator’s license questioned.

He then argued that the subsequent October 3 decision by the Water and Sewer Commission to restore fluoride to the recommended levels of between .06 parts per million and 1.0 parts per million was flawed and unclear. He wrote that adding fluoride is not mandatory but merely recommended by the state and pointed out that only 56 percent of the people on public waters systems in the state are drinking fluoridated water.

State officials say towns that do fluoridate their water are required to keep it within the recommended range and are not free to set a different level — unless they choose to withdraw from the state's fluoridation program, which provides technical support to communities that participate. 

Chamberlin's letter further explained that, with the exception of one year, he had intentionally kept the town’s fluoride levels below recommended levels since 2011 — far longer than previously acknowledged.

At the October 3 meeting, Chamberlin apologized and appeared to take responsibility for his actions.

“Words cannot express how sorry I am for causing this controversy,” he said. “I offer my sincerest apology to the residents of Richmond, especially to the town manager and water and sewer commission and the selectboard.”

Pennie Rand at the Richmond Water and Sewer Commission meeting - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Pennie Rand at the Richmond Water and Sewer Commission meeting
In his letter, however, Chamberlin expressed no contrition. 

He pointed to a reduction in recommended fluoride levels as evidence of a growing recognition that less fluoride is considered safer. And he cited a state Department of Health publication on fluoride in public water systems for creating confusion. The 2021 report incorrectly listed Richmond’s fluoride at the optimum level — 0.7 parts per million.

Robin Miller, oral health director for the health department, acknowledged to Seven Days the 0.7 was a "default" figure meant to distinguish the town’s water system as one of the 29 in the state that add fluoride — not a precise measure of its fluoride levels.

Miller said the state had been working with Richmond to get its fluoride levels into appropriate ranges but was unsuccessful.



Local doctors, dentists and community members said if they had known fluoride levels in the water were low they would have been able to take steps to supplement their fluoride intake to improve dental health, such as through using fluoridated mouthwash.

But Chamberlin pointed the finger at the state for any confusion.

“This misunderstanding was not due to anything I said or did,” Chamberlin wrote.

He called fluoride a “toxic chemical with significant known health risks," but he provided no evidence of any negative health impacts of fluoridation at current recommended levels.

Low levels of fluoride help strengthen and protect tooth enamel, but too much fluoride, particularly in young children, can cause slight tooth discoloration called dental fluorosis.

Town manager Arneson said by email that water department staff have been consistently maintaining fluoride levels between 0.6 parts per million and 0.7 parts per million since October 5. Arneson said he and the Water and Sewer Commission will be reviewing the levels monthly going forward.