An Athens County commissioner candidate visited Athens City Council this week along with several others to oppose fluoride in municipal drinking water.

Ibriham Alassaf, an Ohio University student who ran for an at-large council seat on the Democratic ticket in May’s primary, lost that race and recently announced his intention to challenge current Athens County Commissioner Mark Sullivan in next year’s Democratic primary.

Sullivan has said he will seek re-election, and, in addition to Alassaf, Democrats Mike O’Brien, Bob Baughman and Paul “Smoke” Barrett all have said they also will run in that primary.

On Monday, Alassaf chose to speak at the end of the City Council meeting when citizens are given the opportunity to voice their opinions on subjects not covered in the meeting. Fluoridation of water was not addressed by City Council on Monday.

Noting City Council’s recent preliminary talks about a possible “fracking” ordinance, Alassaf said that the city faces an “environmental problem that’s been going on way longer than fracking” — water fluoridation.

“It’s a problem,” he said. “We need to stop referring to it as fluoride. It’s fluorosilicic acid.”
Alassaf said that it’s an economic handicap to the city, which spends $19,000 annually on municipal water fluoridation. He charged that fluoride is corroding the city’s water infrastructure and that he has health and safety concerns as well.

He pointed to recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control that municipalities lower the level of fluoride in their water supplies. He was joined by fellow OU student Dan Waller and local resident Dane McCarthy in speaking out against water fluoridation at the meeting.

The issue of water fluoridation has repeatedly cropped up in the city of Athens over the years. Most recently, at-large City Council member Elahu Gosney organized a forum on the subject in 2009.

Athens has been adding fluoride to its drinking water since 2002, according to Gosney, who serves as chair of City Council’s environmental committee. The state of Ohio passed a law in 1970 requiring fluoridation of the public water supplies, exempting only cities that passed a referendum declining to fluoridate. Athens was one of those cities.

A city law cleared the way in 1997 to add fluoride compounds to the water supply, but this wasn’t accomplished until 2002. Most of the rural water suppliers in the area, including Le-Ax Water District, fluoridate their water.

Supporters note the verified dental benefits of fluoride, its widespread and non-controversial use in much of the country’s water supply, and the lack of evidence that local residents have suffered any negative health consequences.

At the time, Gosney invited both Paul Connett, an emeritus professor of chemistry and executive director of the Fluoride Action Network and an official from the Ohio Department of Health to debate the issue at the forum. Gosney said he was told by the ODH that they didn’t participate in debates on fluoride.

In an interview, Connett said that other than fluoridation, the public water supply has never before been used to deliver medicine.

“You are depriving the individual of the right to informed consent to medication,” Connett said. “Your council is doing to the whole of Athens what an individual doctor could not to do an individual patient.”

Colleen Wulf, preventive services coordinator with the Bureau of Oral Health Services of the ODH, countered some of Connett’s claims in a telephone interview.

“ODH does endorse fluoridation,” Wulf said. “Our director has a policy statement that it is the single most effective thing that a community can do to improve the oral health of its citizens.”