Opponents of water fluoridation in the Clean Water Meadville group are not waiting until the May 4 community meeting planned by the Meadville Area Water Authority to open the floodgates on the fluoride debate.
They have invited retired chemist and fluoridation opponent Ron Greinke to address the topic at an April 8 meeting that they hope will provide a “chance for citizens to voice their concerns.”
The meeting, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Vernon Township Municipal Building, 16678 McMath Ave., at 6:30 p.m.
MAWA’s meeting, which comes after years of delays on the issue, will feature presentations by representatives of Clean Water Meadville and Meadville Smiles, which supports the issue, as well as time for comments from members of the public.
The time and location of the meeting have not yet been determined.
But “discussion” and “meeting” are not the terms that come to mind when Clean Water Meadville member and former Crawford County Coroner Pat McHenry refers to the Meadville Area Water Authority’s May 4 event.
“The sham, you mean,” McHenry said in an interview with the Tribune last week.
“It’s a very limited forum,” he explained. “They’re going to go out there and do it (fluoridation) anyway. It’s limited by design.”
Guidelines from the state Department of Environmental Protection require public notification before fluoridation of community water systems can be started or stopped. However, the guidelines allow a great deal of flexibility in terms of what form the notification takes. Newspaper articles, distribution of pamphlets and direct mailings to customers are all listed as legitimate options, but none are specifically required.
When fluoridation proves controversial, the DEP guidelines state that “public meetings are usually held” and “referendum votes are sometimes taken.” The guidelines offer no details on what form meetings must take, stating simply that the goal of such activities is to “provide notice to the customers, physicians, dentists and other medical professionals that the water supplier is proposing to fluoridate.”
Chris Knapp, who has largely served as the public face of Clean Water Meadville over the past few years, expressed concern regarding MAWA’s commitment to allowing public input in the process.
“We must be sure to fulfill the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law,” Knapp wrote in response to questions from the Tribune. “MAWA has tried to limit public comment. Initially they did not want the public to have the ability to ask the experts any questions and they wanted to impose a 48-hour notice for residents to sign up to speak.”
MAWA has since softened its stance and agreed to allow members of the public to speak at the May 4 meeting without prior notification, but is sticking to the current one-meeting set-up.
“It might be a long night,” MAWA board President Tim Groves acknowledged to his fellow board members during their February meeting. When contacted last week, Groves was still hopeful the single meeting would give all stakeholders a chance to be heard.
“We’ve talked about this extensively over the last few months and we truly believe there’s going to be time,” he said. “We hope the two sides giving presentations will cover most of the questions people might have.”
Despite Groves’ hopes, Clean Water Meadville is bringing Greinke in to give people “another chance to hear about current fluoride topics,” according to Knapp.
“This will give the people who really want to ask questions a chance to have them answered,” McHenry said. “It’s not going to be limited and everyone is welcome.”
Greinke, the featured speaker at the April 8 event, said he can relate to those with questions about fluoridation. He was in a similar position about 15 years ago when he retired after 35 years as a chemist with GrafTech. His expertise, however, was in carbon. When it came to fluoridated water, his position was neutral.
That changed when his daughter began experiencing health problems. She decided to raise her children without exposing them to fluoride and asked Greinke to look into the issue. Before long, Greinke became convinced the fluoridated water poses a health risk. Soon, he was giving talks to community groups near his home in Medina, Ohio, and writing letters to the editor.
“I feel I’m kind of stymied here in the state of Ohio,” Greinke admitted. “I’ll see what I can do in Meadville on this issue.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the state mandates water fluoridation in communities larger than 5,000 people, though 22 such communities were exempted from the requirement when it was passed in 1970. Greinke himself employs reverse osmosis filtration to remove fluoride from water in his home.
Greinke is aware opponents of fluoridation are often tarred with the brush of conspiracy theorists in tin-foil hats, but says he has no interest in such theories. After a career as a chemist that included dozens of publications in research journals and multiple patents, he’s interested in one thing and one thing only.
“I just want to stick to the pure science,” he said. “What I’m going to try and do is state some of the things the pro-fluoride people will say. Hopefully, I can explain to the citizens of Meadville some of the things that are said that are simply not true about this issue.”
Greinke differentiated between the expertise that he can offer on fluoridation as a chemist and the expertise of dentists who have long touted fluoridated water as one of the best ways to promote dental hygiene.
“My experience with the dentists is that they are not scientists — don’t get me wrong, I love dentists,” he said. “They tell them fluoride is good. That’s what they learn in school. Right now with the ADA (American Dental Association), it’s their credibility and reputation, so it’s more politics that has gotten in this issue than science.”
“They do make a lot of money on this issue,” Greinke said. “Like the tobacco industry — that was supposed to be very good for you, but now we have all these lawsuits.”
MAWA board member Dennis Finton, who is a dentist, laughed at the idea that he might benefit financially from fluoridation.
“I guess I have to chuckle because there’s no way a dentist will benefit from fluoride in the water,” he said. “The addition of fluoride reduces the percentage of decay by up to 8 percent. If you’re taking up to 8 percent of business away from dentists, I don’t think they’re going to benefit.”
“The 50 percent of the American population that doesn’t see a dentist on a regular basis — to me, that’s who would benefit,” Finton added.
But for people like McHenry, fluoridated water is no laughing matter and the real issue is not the possibility of dentists receiving a financial benefit. The real issue, he says, is the individual’s right to determine what goes in their body.
“They’re using an authority that’s answerable to nobody,” he said, suggesting that MAWA has been influenced by dentists and doctors who have a vested interest in fluoridation. “I feel very strongly with this issue we’re bypassing people’s constitutional rights.”
“Why isn’t it being put up for a vote here? McHenry asked. “If it’s so good, why not? Let the people decide — doesn’t that sound American to you?”