SAEGERTOWN — In a move that caught fellow school board members off-guard, PENNCREST School Board President Luigi DeFrancesco announced plans to introduce a proposal that would eliminate individual fluoride treatments for students from the school district’s health program.

During the board’s study session Monday night, DeFrancesco said he will lead a discussion on the elimination of the district’s fluoride program during the board’s monthly meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the administrative office on Route 198 in Saegertown.

DeFrancesco began by saying that because the federal Environmental Protection Agency lists fluoride as a contaminant, “for health reasons, we should remove fluoride from our school system.”

In May, representatives of the Community Initiative for Improved Dental Health presented the results of a year-long study on fluoride to Meadville Area Water Authority, asking the authority to consider fluoridating the water it distributes throughout the City of Meadville and in several surrounding communities. The group was formed in response to a recent state study showing extremely high rates of cavities in children and adults in northwestern Pennsylvania compared to state and national rates as well as studies of data compiled by Meadville Medical Center showing that untreated dental problems regularly rank first or second among reasons for emergency room visits. The group includes representatives from the local dental community, pediatric physicians, MMC, Allegheny College and Crawford Central School District.

That discussion, which inspired a negative response from other local residents, was officially put on hold for at least a year in late June because the authority is in the middle of a major infrastructure improvement project. Authority Chairman Tim Groves said at the time that the authority didn’t believe it and its staff have the time and resources to manage the infrastructure project while simultaneously organizing the community discussions that would precede a decision on fluoride.

PENNCREST board member Fred McDermott, a medical doctor who serves as medical director of radiology services for Meadville Medical Center, disagreed with DeFrancesco.

“Fluoride in drinking water is one of the great public health accomplishments of the last century,” he said, going on to explain that he has never in his life seen as much dental disease as he has seen in Crawford County. “There are 20-year-olds with no teeth in their heads,” he said. “I have never seen anything like it. It’s astonishing — to come out against fluoride is ridiculous.”

McDermott also explained that fluoride, like many other substances that can be beneficial to humans, can cause problems in excessive quantities.

Noting that he had not asked for McDermott’s medical opinion on the matter, DeFrancesco asked if it is possible that bad teeth are genetic.

McDermott responded that there’s enough diversity in the county’s genetic pool that the answer is “probably no.”

According to DeFrancesco, the discussion will continue Thursday.