In several months, the Greater Johnstown Water Authority must make a very difficult and controversial decision.
The authority will decide whether to continue adding fluoride to its water supplies or stop the practice.
The authority held a public forum on Tuesday to gauge its customers’ interests in fluoridation. The meeting was required by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
At issue is the cost to add fluoride, estimated at $400,000 to $500,000 during the next decade because of a $125,000 capital improvement project to the chemical-feed system, and the expense of purchasing fluoride.
About two dozen residents voiced their opinions, and they were evenly divided on the benefits and harms of fluoridation. Those who favor the water treatment pointed out the benefits to oral health. The anti-fluoride group is concerned about side effects and the practice of medicating an entire community.
Several people have written to the Readers’ Forum expressing their opinions on the matter. The writers also were divided on the pros and cons of fluoridation.
Michael Kerr, the authority’s resident manager, was pleased with the forum and the information received from those who spoke.
“I thought we got to hear a lot of interesting points and well-made points on either side,” Kerr said.
“The meeting held its intended purpose and gave us several good opinions on either side.”
Local dentists Robert Callahan and Scott Little were among those who spoke in favor of fluoridation.
“The truth is water that has a fluoride level that’s regulated never did anything but benefit,” Little told those in attendance. “That’s the truth of the research.”
We tend to side with those who see the effects of fluoridation on an almost daily basis.
One of the people to offer a counter opinion was Joseph Taranto, a chiropractor and chairman of the Johnstown Housing Authority, who asked if it was “right for our society to medicate its populace without informed consent? I don’t believe so.”
The website ilikemyteeth.org notes that fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally “in virtually all water supplies” and is not a medication.
The website also lists other everyday products that have been fortified to improve Americans’ health without consent: iodine is added to salt, milk is fortified with Vitamin D, and breads and cereals are bolstered with folic acid.
Also, the website said, much of the fluoride for water treatment is extracted from phosphate rock, the same rock that produces phosphoric acid used in the manufacturing of soft drinks. The remainder of the rock is pulverized to create fertilizers that are used on fruits and vegetables that many of us enjoy.
Some residents wondered about the risk of cancer. The American Dental Association, in an extensive report released in 2005, states that “more than 50 epidemiologic studies have failed to demonstrate an association between fluoridation and cancer.” The research was conducted in Australia, Japan, Canada, Great Britain and the United States.
In 2015, Newsweek took a look at the effectiveness of fluoridation by talking to the Cochrane Collaboration, a group of highly regarded doctors and researchers. The Cochrane group concluded that there was insufficient data that fluoride reduces cavities in adults.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was not impressed with the group’s findings.
“Nothing in the Cochrane review” reduces the government’s “confidence in water fluoridation as a valuable tool to prevent tooth decay in children as well as adults,” Barbara Gooch a dental researcher with the CDC, said.
Even experts can’t arrive at a definitive conclusion that fluoride is either good or bad.
We don’t envy the difficult decision that the Greater Johnstown Water Authority faces. The authority’s directors must weigh the public comments and the expenses associated with treating the water and arrive at a solution, which will be hailed by some and criticized by others.