Class action lawsuit filed over Buffalo water fluoridation lapse

"We sued the City because it’s Water Board hid the fact that it illegally stopped putting fluoride in the water in June 2015."
Buffalo Water
Inside the Buffalo Round House water intake in the Niagara River. Water runs from the intake to the pumping station on Porter Avenue where it is treated before being distributed to Buffalo residents Photo credit WBEN Photo/Tim Wenger

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - Just hours before a Buffalo Common Council committee is scheduled to hear testimony from the head of the Buffalo Water Board and outside experts on the fluoridation lapse, a class action lawsuit has been filed against the city.

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The suit filed Monday by three city residents names Mayor Byron Brown, the city's water board chairman, Oluwole McFoy and the city as a whole for its lack of water fluoridation over the past several years.

"Under the Green Amendment to the New York Constitution, each of us is guaranteed the right to a ‘healthful environment,’ which world, national and state authorities agree includes fluoridated drinking water," attorney Robert Corp tells WBEN. "We sued the City because it’s Water Board hid the fact that it illegally stopped putting fluoride in the water in June 2015, which violates the Green Amendment and other laws."

The city ended its longtime fluoridation practice seven years ago after concerns of lead infiltration were raised during a changeover from manual to automatic fluoridation. Mayor Brown last week told WBEN the fluoridation will resume by year's end and also emphasized that nothing harmful is in Buffalo water.

The suit is requesting fluoridation be immediately resumed and that affected residents be provided free treatment as well as reimbursement for damages and legal fees.

"We are asking for a court to order the city to stop the excuses and immediately resume fluoridation, free dental clinics for all residents who were harmed and monetary damages," Corp said. "It’s unfortunately that this step is needed, but with almost 8 wasted years, it seems abundantly necessary."

The class action suit is being filed on behalf of all city residents. That means if there is a judgement, it would be shared among city residents. "If we reach resolution at trial or before then, there would be mechanisms to divide any recovery among city residents," added Corp.

The Buffalo Common Council will hear from experts on the fluoridation issue during a hearing in city hall Tuesday.

Comments made by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown last Friday are included in the suit, including his statement that the buck stops with him. "We hope he meant that he is seeing to it that the city begins fluoridating the water immediately. But we disagree that all of the responsibility falls on him. Each of the defendants have liability in causing this damage."

How difficult will it be to prove harm done by lack of fluoride, as opposed to tooth decay caused by candy and sugary drinks?

"Under the law," Corp said, "we only need to prove that fluoride was a substantial factor in causing any of the tooth decay or cavities. Substantial factor under New York common law can be as little as one percent.

The plaintiffs plan to rely on numerous studies by federal and international
agencies that reflect communities with water fluoridation have significantly better dental outcomes than communities without it.

Featured Image Photo Credit: WBEN Photo/Tim Wenger