Bellefonte’s water was named the best tasting in 2014 at the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association Conference, but the borough authority’s decision to pull fluoride from it has left a bad taste in some people’s mouths.
The Bellefonte Borough Authority voted 5-0 at its May 5 meeting to discontinue putting fluoride into the water, pending approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
That process is ongoing, but Borough Council decided to hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Monday before its regularly scheduled meeting on the topic. The meeting will allow council members, authority members and residents to voice their opinions.
There is, however, a catch.
If council, which appointed the authority’s members, were to favor continuing the practice of putting fluoride into the water, it couldn’t overrule the authority, according to borough Manager Ralph Stewart.
He explained the decision was made after the DEP inspected Bellefonte’s water system facilities in March and discovered deficiencies, including the amount of Hydrofluorosilicic acid being pumped into the distribution system which was below the permitted amount of 0.9 milligrams per liter.
The authority submitted a permit modification to the DEP in July to discontinue the practice and sent out a notification to customers affected by the decision and local dentists and doctors.
A trio of dentists shared their concerns Aug. 4 with the authority in its first meeting following the notifications, and other local dentists have attended the authority’s subsequent meetings.
Fluoride, however, is still being added to the water, but the practice can be discontinued on the DEP’s conditions that another round of direct notifications to customers is sent out and that there is at least a 30-day period after the notice before discontinuation.
Stewart supports the authority’s decision.
“We, like most water systems that fluoridate, use Hydrofluorosilicic acid, an industrial grade waste product from the phosphate industry,” Stewart said. “Hydrofluorosilicic acid is not tested for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because, by agreement, it is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The fluoride used in toothpaste, bottled water and other supplements is sodium fluoride, a pharmaceutical or food-grade fluoride, tested for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”
Stewart further said that it is a “highly toxic” acid and presents an unnecessary health and safety risk to water system personnel and can carry metals like lead and arsenic. Stewart also said it has been linked to leaching lead out of household plumbing and developmental issues in infants and children.
“My concern is for the health and safety of our water system personnel and the health and safety of our customers,” he said. “Hydrofluorosilicic acid raises too many risks for its benefit.”
The authority did not respond to requests for comment.