Harris Township Supervisors Ask Water Authority to Continue Fluoridation
Harris Township’s Board of Supervisors wants the State College Borough Water Authority to reconsider its recent decision to begin the process of removing fluoride from the water supply serving approximately 75,000 people in and near the Centre Region.
The township is one of six municipalities served at least in part by the SCBWA and is the first to formally request that the authority’s board reverse its July decision.
Supervisors voted unanimously on Monday to send a letter to the authority saying “we strongly urge them to reconsider that,” as suggested by Supervisor Bud Graham, who raised the issue.
“I’m concerned that the citizens of Harris Township may benefit from this fluoride. They seem to,” Graham said.
SCBWA began looking into whether it should continue fluoridation in 2019, when fluoride began to become more difficult to acquire. An ad hoc committee delivered a report on the practice in May and recommended 2-1 to cease fluoridation, not because it questioned whether fluoride prevents cavities, but because of peer-reviewed studies that suggest possible adverse health effects, potential environmental contamination caused by wasted fluoride and concern about distributing to customers who have no choice.
After more than two months of community debate, the full board voted 6-0 in July to initiate the process to modify SCBWA’s permit with the Department of Environmental Protection so that it can stop injecting fluoride into the water supply. despite opposition from a number of local dentists, hygienists, health professionals and residents.
The board’s seventh member, State College representative Bernard Hoffnar, who was in favor of keeping fluoride, resigned in the middle of the vote.
Authority board members said that, although SCBWA budgeted $70,000 for fluoride in 2019, the issue was not a cost-saving measure.
“It bothers me that they say it’s not a cost move but it really is a cost move for them,” Graham said on Monday.
Supervisor Frank Harden added that he felt the authority is removing services but not reducing customer costs.
“The thing that concerns me here is again with the water company every time we turn around they say ‘Here we go we’re raising the rates… and we’re going to get rid of some services,'” Harden said. “That’s what I see here. I see them dropping some of their service and keeping their rates up. I don’t know what’s going on with the water company but it seems like we’ve had this discussion with them with either rate increases or fire hydrants or something. It’s always something where they’re looking for more money or creating more money and I don’t understand why. I think this fluoride is just another part of that iceberg.”
Supervisor Dennis Hameister said community sentiment seemed to be in favor of keeping fluoride.
“The general tone of the letters to the editors of the paper was to keep fluoride,” Hameister said. “The general public was very much in favor of keeping it.
Supervisor Bruce Lord agreed with sending the letter but said he didn’t feel it was necessary.
“I have no problem with sending a letter,” Lord said. “Frankly I think it’s a non-issue. Buy fluoride toothpaste.”
The SCBWA’s ad hoc committee’s report showed that while about two-thirds of the U.S. population drinks fluoridated water, only about 6% of people worldwide do. In western Europe, where most water supplies are not artificially fluoridated, tooth decay rates have declined over the past 50 years.
Topical fluoride, the report said, is as effective as fluoridated drinking water and the advent of fluoride toothpaste brought significant improvements in dental health.
The American Dental Association recommends that infants should have formula prepared with fluoride-free water to reduce the risk of fluorosis, which causes pitting and discoloration of teeth and can weaken bones at higher levels.
Authority members also said fluoride can only be sourced from China and how it is produced is unclear, while executive director Brian Heiser added that the fluoride no longer comes shipped in the appropriate containers and requires extra handling, exposing plant operators to potentially toxic dust inhalation.
Only a small amount of fluoride in the water is actually ingested by consumers and the wasted product is released into the environment posing a hazard for aquatic life, plants and soil, board member Gary Petersen said.
Dentists and other health professionals pushed back on the decision, warning that removing fluoride will worsen a growing national tooth decay problem and noting that they see few if any cases of fluorosis in their practices.
Dr. Matthew Kremser said community water fluoridation is “one of the biggest public health success stories,” and the difference between patients from communities with and without it is stark.
Nearly 100% of patients at Centre Volunteers in Medicine, which provides medical and dental care for low-income individuals with no insurance, have cavities and need multiple appointments with long waits to address their tooth decay, Executive Director Cheryl White said.
“In many cases, fluoride in the water is the only type of dental prevention these individuals have,” White said. “This is critical to help strengthen teeth and prevent decay.”