POTTSTOWN — In the wake of a series of public meetings at which no one spoke, the Pottstown Borough Authority voted Tuesday night to take the steps necessary to cease adding fluoride to the public water system it oversees.
Held on Aug. 2 at two different times, the public hearings attracted a few attendees but no comments.
Attendance was also sparse in 2009 when the authority held two sets of public hearings on the same subject, but ultimately decided in March against making the change.
Those who did speak two years ago included area dentists who objected to the removal and a representative of the Montgomery County Health Department, who took no position but did remind the authority that fluoride is recommended by federal health officials.
And while fluoride is added to promote dental health to about 70 percent of the nation’s public water supply, of all the public water systems in Montgomery County, only Pottstown currently engages in the practice.
That’s not out of the ordinary for Pennsylvania, where only about 100 public water systems out of more than 2,000 add fluoride.
The decision Tuesday night was not unanimous and will take six months to a year to implement as permits must be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Authority Board member Aram Ecker cast the lone vote against taking the fluoride out, arguing that dentists, those in the best position to know what’s best from a health perspective, recommend it.
“I know, absolutely in my heart, that this is a benefit to the community,” Ecker said in a voicemail message left at The Mercury Wednesday morning.
However board member Tom Carroll said he had heard dental professionals talking about the “problems with too much fluoride.”
Utilities Manager Brent Wagner said the maximum allowed to be added to public water is 0.7 percent, but there is no minimum.
Authority member David Renn said fluoride was first introduced nationally in 1955 when dental hygiene was less advanced.
“We did not have the same kind of advanced mouthwashes and toothpastes then as we do now,” he said.
He also noted that in many cases, customers do not drink tap water, making moot the addition of a chemical designed to improve dental health.
But Ecker was not convinced.
“Don’t you know that 65 percent of the people in this town qualify for welfare? Don’t you know that dentists saw the benefit of adding fluoride from the ’60s onward and we’re going to stop because it has adverse effects on female mice? I can’t believe we’re talking about this?” Ecker said.
“Well if it makes that much difference, how come all the people drinking well water out in Berks County, who don’t have fluoride in their water, are not seeing their teeth fall out?” Renn replied.
“All I know is that if you take (fluoride) out, this room will be packed” by people objecting, Ecker said to a room devoid of visitors with the exception of a single Mercury reporter.
The authority estimates it will save between $50,000 to $60,000 a year by not having to buy the chemical additive, which Ecker called “an insignificant amount of money.”
Some on the authority argued that having fluoride added to the water makes it more difficult to sell to other systems which do not use it.
“If you tell me we might sell $1 million worth of water each year if we take it out, I might reconsider,” said Ecker, who heads the authority’s marketing committee. “I can be bought,” he joked.
Reaction to the news, posted Tuesday night on The Mercury’s Facebook pages, was mixed.
Pottstown resident Paul Saponaro posted the following: “They had meetings two years ago, that doctors and dentists showed up citing the importance of fluoride in the water. They backed off, waited for the furor to die down then did it anyway. They wanted to do it so they can sell the water to more townships, to hell with the Pottstown people that want it,” he wrote. “It’s all about money, not what’s best for the people. And guess what? The bill won’t go down, or will only go down a token amount.”
“People drink the water?” asked Phil Spence of Pottstown.
“If it makes my bill cheaper I say yes. I’ll just use filtered water when I use a toothbrush,” wrote Kevin Durchin of Pottstown.
“Seriously people, no one drinks the water that comes out of our faucets anyway,” wrote South Pottstown resident Jennie W. Repko. “And yes, hopefully this will make our water bills cheaper.”
“You can get fluoride treatments at the dentist, however, I think there are probably many families in Pottstown without dental insurance that will not be able to afford it,” wrote Adria Smith Angstadt, a Pottstown native who now lives in Douglassville.
Tara Harris wrote: “You people need to research fluoride in drinking water before you complain. Just because the government says something is good doesn’t mean you have to listen. What a bunch of sheeple!”
“Being a dental hygienist this is very upsetting,” wrote Ellie Honey-Watkins. “There is so much poverty in Pottstown that the people who have benefitted from this program were that population.
These people are drinking the water because they can’t afford the fancy stuff. These people can’t afford to go to the dentist regularly for check-ups to prevent decay, get prescriptions for the tablets.
They will wait till it hurts and then opt to lose a tooth cause it is cheaper.”
“Fluoride is not toxic,” Honey-Watkins added. “The ignorance in the public is terrible. Too much fluoride flushes out of your system causing no harm. There is no solid evidence to prove otherwise.”
“It’s a great idea,” wrote Steve Sheffey, a Pottstown native who now lives in Idaho. “Studies are showing too much fluoride does more harm, putting it in a nutshell.”