The Altoona City Authority voted Thursday not to fluoridate the water system.
The vote comes two years after the Altoona Hospital Partnership for a Healthy Community asked the authority to add fluoride to the water to help prevent tooth cavities, especially in children.
Three months ago, the partnership reiterated that request during a meeting at which new authority member Tom Martin declared himself an advocate for the practice, which is followed by public water systems serving 170 million people in the U.S.
With two other members of the five-person board saying they were open-minded, it seemed the authority finally would begin fluoridating, as requested by various groups periodically since the 1950s.
But all such efforts have generated opposition, which has included concerns about health effects and philosophical opposition to “mass medication.”
A resident who came to an authority meeting in March as part of a small delegation read from anti-fluoridation literature that claimed the practice originated decades ago as a profitable way to dispose of an industrial by-product.
Martin was the only authority member who voted Thursday to fluoridate after Chairman Maurice Lawruk called for a resolution on the matter.
“Things have been dragging out too long,” he said.
Lawruk said that after researching fluoridation, he decided against it with the help of a professor he met recently in Florida, who wondered why Altoona would want to add the element to its good mountain water.
The authority adds chemicals only to remove impurities, not to “enhance” the water, as fluoridation would, in-house engineer Mike Sinisi said.
Member Tony Ruggery said he would have no problem with fluoridation personally, but he figured “it isn’t right for us” because most customers are older and wouldn’t benefit much and because fluoridation might be a liability for the authority.
If families want their kids to have fluoride, they can give them tablets, he said.
Member Patrick Dumm had “no problem with the concept,” but be believes the authority’s responsibility ends when it delivers pure drinking water.
While Martin said he respected the majority decision, he said “evidence is overwhelming” in favor of fluoridation. Customers are getting shortchanged without it, especially kids whose families can’t afford good dental care, he said.
“We’re way behind the times,” Martin said.
Marian Fifer, executive director of the partnership, said the group was disappointed with the decision.
“We would hope they’d continue to consider it,” Fifer said.
The partnership had offered to pay half the $186,000 startup cost.