CHAMBERSBURG – Guilford Water Authority will stop adding fluoride to its water supply in a month.
Fluoride is known to prevent tooth decay, but in recent years people have questioned the safety and ethics of placing the naturally occurring chemical in a public water supply.
The authority decided to stop its practice after a public hearing a year ago. The authority, with approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, sent out notices to water customers on March 8. The public water system serving 26,000 customers in Guilford and Greene townships will stop adding fluoride on April 18.
“We are making this change because the authority recognizes there are conflicting opinions about the benefits of water fluoridation,” the notice said. “Pennsylvania does not require public water suppliers to fluoridate; therefore, we have decided to stop.”
Alicia Risner-Bauman, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Dental Association and a dentist in Horseheads, New York, called the move “unfortunate” and “horrendous.”
“It’s going to cost the public more in the long run,” she said. “They’re going to spend more on dental decay than they would have to fluoridate the water. They are denying the community that public health protection measure from the water and leaving the community more susceptible to this preventable disease.”
The average lifetime cost per person to fluoridate a water supply is less than the cost of one dental filling, according to the American Dental Association. Every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs.
The decision will impact the poorest socioeconomic populations the most, according to Bauman.
The authority’s notice said, “Parents of young children, and anyone else wanting the benefits of fluoridation, should discuss this change with their doctors to determine if fluoride supplements should be used.”
Fluoride does not occur naturally in Guilford’s well water.
“We believe we should not put anything into the water that is not required by regulation to maintain the potability and pH balance of your water,” the notice said. The taste and water quality will not change.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, has identified water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
More than half the people served by public water systems in Pennsylvania drink fluoridated water, according to the CDC. The state ranks 40th in the percentage of people having fluoride in their drinking water.
Ten systems serving 200,000 consumers in Pennsylvania have discontinued fluoridation since 2011, according to a 2015 Green Paper for the Joint Legislative Conservation Committee of the state General Assembly.
Few European countries add fluoride to their drinking water systems.
A couple of years ago the authority began getting letters objecting to fluoridated water, according to authority member Leo Showalter. Showalter said during the public hearing last year that authority members recognized the value of fluoride as a cavity preventative, but people could get the medical treatment on their own.
About 25 people attended the public meeting last year. Medical professionals encouraged the authority to continue fluoridating water. Others claimed that fluoride harmed them.
“The battle over fluoridation is one of the longest continuous debates in both Pennsylvania and the country,” Research Analyst Coleen P. Engvall said in her paper to the Conservation Committee. “It has gained and lost traction over the years, but it not likely to become any less divisive or controversial.”
Fluoridation in Pennsylvania should be studied more closely because it’s become increasingly confusing, she said. “Much of the difficulty surrounding this issue stems from the onslaught of sensationalist and biased sources.”
The authority supplies water to residents in Guilford and Greene townships.