The Greater Johnstown Water Authority has been wrestling since May with whether it should continue adding fluoride to its water supply.
At last month’s meeting, the authority requested public feedback on the issue. Eighty-four people responded. Sixty customers urged the authority to stop adding the mineral.
The other 24 respondents preferred status quo.
Water authority members decided – and rightly so – that the majority should prevail.
“We listened to the voice of the people,” board Chairman Ed Cernic Sr. said at the authority’s July 20 meeting.
“That’s how our board acts.”
Gathering public input and ruling in favor of the majority when appropriate is the very principal behind democracy.
We commend the authority for taking the action it did.
Cernic said he was “very satisfied” with the authority’s final decision, noting that most of the public feedback was against fluoridation.
He pointed to two factors that the public was keying on:
• Most of the water used by authority customers was not used for tooth-cleaning purposes.
“Most of the water going out with fluoride in it goes to car washes, doing something like that,” Cernic said. “It’s not necessarily input into your mouth.”
• Many over-the-counter products, such as toothpaste, contain fluoride.
“The way people use fluoride now,” Cernic said, “they get the same benefit out of toothpaste.”
Several people, including two health-care professionals, addressed the board at its May 30 meeting to lobby for fluoride. Dr. Robert Callahan, a local dentist and mayor of Westmont Borough, called fluoridation a “safe, effective” method of preventing tooth decay.
Ending fluoridation would put “our health care back into the last century,” Callahan added.
Dr. Scott Little, also a Johnstown dentist, concurred.
“Water that has a fluoride level that’s regulated never did anything but benefit,” Little told the board.
But 13 people at that meeting spoke out against fluoride.
Individuals also expressed their concerns, pro and con, in the Readers’ Forum section of The Tribune-Democrat’s editorial pages.
Willie Davis of Johnstown noted that The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical journals, “classifies fluoride as a neurotoxin, in the same category as arsenic, lead and mercury.”
“Also,” he wrote “fluoride is a cumulative toxin, meaning that it builds up in our systems over time.”
James L. Greco, a former water authority member, wrote in favor of fluoride.
“When one compares the health-related credentials of organizations supporting fluoridation to those of the opponents,” Greco wrote, “the choice is clear – continue fluoridation.
“Removing fluoride from the GJWA water will be detrimental to the dental health of our already struggling community.”
John Varner’s letter to the editor appealed to readers’ practicality.
“Think about all the water going down the drain because of bathing, showering, toilet flushing, laundering, dish washing, car washing, watering grass, topping off swimming pools and other things,” Varner wrote. “We can get fluoride in toothpaste.”
And this from Dr. Michael B. Garver, a dentist: “Fluoridation is generally considered one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century, reducing the rate of tooth decay up to 60 percent, with children from lower income households receiving the greatest benefit.”
This is how public discourse is supposed to work.
Judging from published comments, people were passionate about the issue, whether they agreed with fluoridation or were against the practice.
Presumably, water authority members read the letters to the editor and also took those opinions into consideration when making their decision.
Often, we hear and read about organizations and government agencies that turn deaf ears to public input. We’re pleased that the Greater Johnstown Water Authority did not take that stance.
The authority did right by its customers. Democracy has prevailed.