Fluoride Action Network

West Manheim Township’s decision to keep fluoride in drinking water highlights a lingering controversy

Source: York Daily Record/York Sunday News | June 10th, 2012 | By BILL LANDAUER and TRAVIS LAU

York, PA – A decision in West Manheim Township to continue to fluoridate water gives proponents of adding the chemical to municipal supplies a victory in York County.

The township voted 4-1 Thursday night to require York Water Company to continue fluoridating its supply, reversing an earlier decision. West Manheim is the only municipality York Water Company services that receives fluoridation.

“I think that the township supervisors are really to be commended for their actions,” said Robin Rohrbaugh, executive director of the Healthy York Coalition. “What I viewed in that meeting is a perfect example of strong public service.”

Jeff Hines, York Water Company’s president and CEO, said West Manheim’s water supply will continue to be fluoridated at the same level until a public comment period on the decision ends later this month.

After that, the water company will discuss with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection how best to comply with a recent recommendation that water authorities lower the amount of fluoride from 1.0 parts per million to 0.7 parts per million.

That decision came on the heels of an American Dental Association report that 40 percent of American teenagers have flourosis, a discoloration of the teeth caused by too much fluoride, Hines said.

Fluoridation was a condition of the 2007 sale when York Water bought the water lines from the township.

York Water notified the township this spring of its intention to adhere to the new EPA recommendation that fluoride levels in public water be reduced to 0.7 ml/L.

As part of their discussions of the issue, the supervisors voted to eliminate the fluoridation of the township’s water altogether.

Stan Werkheiser, a West Manheim resident who was one of the lead opponents against the township’s plan to remove fluoride from water, said while much of the public comment at Thursday’s meeting — all of which supported fluoridation — had already been brought before the supervisors, comments from two retired dentists might have made a difference in changing the supervisors’ stances.

The men told the supervisors about the improvements in dental health they witnessed in the years after fluoride began being added to public drinking water.

Werkheiser also made a presentation to the board in which he accused Supervisor Marc Woerner, who voted against keeping fluoride in the water, of presenting to the supervisors a slanted view of fluoridation that failed to mention any of the believed benefits.

Woerner said he doesn’t argue that fluoride, applied topically, is good for teeth, but said the research he’s reviewed — which he said comes from the EPA, Centers for Disease Control, York Water and others — indicates ingesting fluoride can be harmful. That’s the reason behind the EPA’s recommendation to lower the allowed levels, he said, and it’s why the township should avoid fluoridation.

The federal government and national medical and dental groups, however, continue to recommend fluoridation of drinking water as safe and effective.

Werkheiser contends there’s no solid research linking health risks to the fluoridation of water, but says the effects of fluoridated water on improved dental health are voluminous.

His presentation also cited his own research that indicated fluoridation of water has improved dental health in the Hanover area at large. Werkheiser said 77 children age 8 years old or younger sought emergency care at York Hospital in 2011 because of extensive dental decay, and none of those children came from the 17331 ZIP code, all of which offers fluoridated water.

And Werkheiser said the supervisors should have taken more time to research the issue of fluoridation before submitting to York Water the request to end the practice.

In Pennsylvania, 54.6 percent of people get their water from fluoridated sources, said Rob Pugliese, a spokesman with the Pennsylvania Dental Association. Nationally, nearly 74 percent of people are on fluoridated water.

“From our perspective, it’s always been a no-brainer,” Pugliese said.

Some people in York disagree.

“Fluoride is a dangerous toxin,” said John Keller of Conewago Township in a May 12 letter to the editor. “If you need proof, simply read the back of your toothpaste tube. It is quickly absorbed through mucus membranes into the bloodstream and bio-accumulates in the cells. How much of this bombardment can your cells take?”

Rohrbaugh says the positives of water fluoridation outweigh the negatives.

“There is a lot of evidence that there’s a 40 percent reduction in tooth decay when communities have fluoride in their water systems,” she said. Also, every dollar spent fluoridation saves the country $38 in dental costs related to things like filling cavities, she said.

Jenny Englerth, executive director of Family First Health, says she’s ecstatic over the decision.

“We see higher rates of decay and cavities in areas that aren’t fluoridated than their counterparts that are fluoridated,” Englerth said.

Hines says he understands both sides of the issue. Fluoridating water isn’t cost-prohibitive, he said. It translates to only a few dollars of a residents’ average $400 bill.

However, Hines said, of the 100 gallons of water York Water produces each day, only one gallon is used for drinking. So much of the fluoride is wasted.

A more efficient method of distribution might be better, Hines said.

The votes

When the West Manheim Township supervisors voted April 5 to request the removal of fluoride from the township’s water, the motion passed by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Carl Gobrecht alone in his dissent.

Supervisor Marc Woerner voting against the request to keep fluoride in the water.

Supervisor Harold Hartlaub declined Friday to explain what led he and other supervisors to change their positions. Hartlaub deferred all comment on the part of the township to Township Manager Kevin Null.

Woerner, who has been the biggest proponent for removing fluoride from West Manheim’s drinking water, said he doesn’t know why the other supervisors changed course.

Out of about 2,200 water customers, the township has received only 19 letters or emails about the issue. Of those, two were in favor of removing fluoride, one was a general inquiry and eight were from “dental people,” not necessarily township residents, Woerner said.

While opposition to removing fluoride surfaced after the supervisors voted to submit the first request, most of the comments voiced publicly have come from the same handful of people, he said.

The public comments at Thursday’s meeting were more of the same, he said.

–TRAVIS LAU, for the Daily Record/Sunday News