A world-traveling environmental chemist told Athens citizens yesterday that the fluoride in the public water supply could cause health problems.

Paul Connett, Ph.D., executive director of the Fluoride Action Network, said fluoridated water threatens to lower children’s IQs, increase the risk of bone fractures and cause infertility.

Athens city water has been fluoridated since 2002, after voters turned down at least three ballot issues allowing fluoride in the 1960s and 70s.

“As a municipal water supply, we are given a set of rules and regulations, and that’s what we do, we follow them,” Crystal Kynard, manager of the City of Athens Water Treatment Plant, said.

Councilmember Elahu Gosney, D-at large, hosted a town hall meeting yesterday for those who wish to challenge those rules. No other city council members attended, and about 20 citizens participated. Gosney also invited Ohio Department of Health officials to the meeting, but the department declined.

The department sent Gosney an e-mail stating that its representatives do not participate in debates about the topic, calling the scientific controversy an “illusion.”

Fluoride is generally added to water supplies to prevent tooth decay, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Ninety-two percent of Ohioans who drink public water have fluoride in their water, according to the department’s Web site.

Water fluoridation is “the single most important step a community can take to improve the dental health of its people,” according to a statement written by Alvin Jackson, M.D., the director of the department.

Connett disputed that fluoridated water could prevent tooth decay, saying that poverty causes the problem instead.

He added that the American Dental Association deemed fluoridated water unsafe for infants, and reported that tap water should not be used in baby formula.

But low-income families may not have a choice but to use tap water in baby formula, Connett said.

“If officials are genuinely concerned about tooth decay, they should target low-income families for special attention,” he said, adding that a city’s population should not be required to drink fluoridated water.

Some citizens at the meeting said they were concerned about the fluoridated water.

“I absolutely don’t think water should be fluoridated,” Millfield resident Dane McCarthy said. “Why am I drinking fluoride if it’s already in my toothpaste?”