Ten months after Meadville Area Water Authority began fluoridating its water, officials say the process is functioning as expected. While the fluoridation system is operating smoothly, the board’s discussion of it raised some of the same divisions that were evident when fluoridation was narrowly approved three years ago.
“I’m pleased to report that it’s working as it was designed,” Project Manager Bob Harrington told the board during the monthly meeting on Wednesday. “We have not had any operational difficulties whatsoever.”
Harrington said the level of fluoride in the water delivered to customers contains approximately 0.5 milligrams per liter. The authority’s 2019 Consumer Confidence Report, available on the MAWA website, reported a fluoride level of 0.46 milligrams per liter.
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends a fluoride concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter as optimal for the prevention of tooth decay.
“We’re happy with that number,” Harrington said of the concentration slightly below the level recommended by the Public Health Service. “There’s always to push it up a little bit, there’s always room to put in a little bit (more), but I feel that’s a good operational number.”
MAWA has been using about 40 gallons of fluoride per month, Harrington said, which is the amount that had been expected.
The water supplied by MAWA naturally contains 0.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter, according to past Consumer Confidence Reports from the authority.
Following Harrington’s report, discussion among board members quickly turned to the question gauging the impact fluoride has — or doesn’t have — on public health.
Hal Tubbs, one of two members on the five-member board who voted against fluoridation, was skeptical about the possibility of accurately measuring any effect the system has on public health.
“It’s like everything else,” he said. “There’s just no way to really tell if the fluoridated water is having an impact in the city of Meadville on our residents — our customers.”
Unsurprisingly, board member Dennis Finton, a dentist who voted in favor of fluoridation, disagreed with Tubbs. While “black and white” proof of the impact may not be available, he said, it’s easy to tell which of the patients coming into his office grew up in areas with fluoridated water and which do not.
The question of the effectiveness of fluoridation remained unresolved, but Harrington emphasized the system used to add the chemical to customers’ water was safe. The analyzer that monitors fluoride levels was inspected in May, he told the board, and will continue to be inspected twice each year.
“I would absolutely say it’s operating as expected,” Harrington said.