A clear – and even – divide existed among the about two dozen customers who spoke at Tuesday’s public meeting concerning whether the Greater Johnstown Water Authority should stop putting fluoride into the water it supplies.
Pro-fluoridation speakers pointed to the chemical’s ability to help prevent tooth decay at a low cost.
Opponents raised concerns about possible side effects and the practice of medicating an entire community.
The authority held the meeting, as required by the state Department of Environmental Protection, in order to get feedback before voting on the proposal, likely in two months. The water authority is considering removing the fluoride as a savings step, since continuing the practice could cost $400,000 to $500,000 over the next decade due to a $125,000 capital improvement to the chemical feed system and ongoing expense of purchasing fluoride.
“I thought we got to hear a lot of interesting points and well-made points on either side,” Michael Kerr, the authority’s resident manager, said.
“I think because of that the meeting held its intended purpose and gave us several good opinions on either side for the board of directors to consider when they make their final decision.”
At least two dentists spoke in favor of keeping fluoride in the system.
Dr. Robert Callahan, the mayor of Westmont, called fluoridation “safe” and “effective” and warned about possible ramifications if it is removed.
“Johnstown has enough bad news without putting our health care back into the last century,” Callahan said.
Dr. Scott Little added: “The truth is water that has a fluoride level that’s regulated never did anything but benefit. That’s the truth of the research.”
Carol Morgan thinks “fluoride in the water system has only benefited the community.” Robert Morgan, Southmont Borough Council vice president, pointed out that, in his opinion, the area has more pressing issues to address, saying, “I think maybe, perhaps, instead of discussing this, we should discuss our heroin problem, which is much more detrimental to our youth and to our community than fluoride.”
The cost would amount to pennies per month for each of the authority’s approximately 22,000 customers.
“I know that we live in an area where the cost of things has become so difficult, but I’m hoping that the board will look at these things and realize, too, people can die of toothaches,” Little said. “People can die. I have seen people die.”
But, by continuing to put fluoride into the water, the authority would spend money that it could use for other aspects of water treatment.
“I think it’s irrelevant,” Kerr said. “I think it’s an issue of economies of scales. … I think dividing $500,000 by 22,000 and then dividing it by 12 (months), while that’s correct math, I think the more important thing to focus on is not the individual cost, but in order for the authority to stay financially viable we have to be responsible with the money that we spend.”
Some who want fluoride removed raised questions as to whether all the facts are known about its effect on humans.
“Until the research is a hundred percent, we should not be doing it,” David Wadsworth said.
Dr. Joseph Taranto, a chiropractor and chairman of the Johnstown Housing Authority, asked if it is “right for our society to medicate its populace without informed consent?” He answered: “I don’t believe so. If I want it, I’ll go to the store and I’ll buy it. I think it’s a great thing, but I don’t think the government should force it on me.”
Melissa Weyandt supported removing fluoride and called for individuals to pay close attention to their dental care, while also teaching children to properly brush and floss. “We have to get the sugar out of our mouths,” Weyandt said. “We’ve got to stop drinking these sugary drinks. It’s not right for them to tell us we’re going to give you this medicine and you don’t have a choice.”