Slick Public Relations Effort Overturns 40 Years of Fluoride-Free Allentown Water
For 40 years, concerned residents of Allentown have fended off attempts to fluoridate their drinking water supply. In 1998-1999, these fluoridation attempts were initiated by a phony grassroots group called the "Citizens for Children's Dental Health." Citizens for Children's Dental Health is a project of Measurable Enhancement of the Status of Health (MESH). Begun in 1996, MESH is an initiative of Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network funded by the Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust. The Pool Trust was founded by Leonard and Dorothy Pool, the founders of Air Products and Chemicals, a large chemical company based in the Allentown area. The current Chairman of the Board of the Pool Trust is H. A. Wagner, who also serves as the Chairman and CEO of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. Air Products manufactures fluoridated chemicals at multiple chemical plants in Pennsylvania.
On January 20th, 1999, the "Citizens for Children's Dental Health" packed an Allentown City Council meeting with dentists and their families from all over the region, including some brought in from out of state. The Allentown City Council voted that night to add fluoride to the city's public water system. The fluoridation promoters had the aid of the Pennsylvania Department of Health's "public health dentist" Dr. Charles Ludwig, who saw to it that our state Health Department gave $25,000 to pay for the first year of fluoridation chemicals for the Allentown water system. The Pool Trust also contributed $500,000 to pay for the installation of the fluoridation equipment, as they had promised in order to get the City Council to vote in favor of the measure.
A New Citizens Group is Formed
In reaction to this, the Allentown Residents for Safe Drinking Water formed. They organized to put the matter on the November 1999 ballot in accordance with Allentown's Home Rule Charter. The charter states that an initiative is when citizens want to propose their own ordinance and it has no time restrictions. A referendum is something that overturns an ordinance and must be started within 10 days of the enaction of the ordinance it would overturn. The Allentown residents needed 2000 signatures from registered Allentown voters to get an initiative on the ballot. They got about 4500-5000 signatures, of which about 4300 were validated. Allentown voters voted down fluoridation twice in the past. With signatures from nearly 1 in 5 registered Allentown voters gathered in only a few months, it seemed like they were ready to do so again.
Democracy Dies in Allentown
The city then started playing tricks and argued that it wasn't an initiative, but was a referendum and was therefore invalid, because the petitioning didn't start within 10 days of January 20th. Allentown City Council met on July 7th, 1999 and voted on whether to send the stack of petitions to the County Board of Elections so that it might appear on the ballot. This time, the audience was filled with anti-fluoride activists wearing "NO to fluoridation, YES to free choice" bumper stickers (quite the opposite of the January meeting!).
The Council president started the meeting by reading a passage about the revolutionary fervor of our founding fathers. He praised Independence Day and spoke about how individuals must stand up to tyranny. He then proceeded to cut off the rights of the public to discuss fluoride during public comment. After requests by Mike Ewall and by the Allentown Residents' lawyer to accept comments specific to the matter of whether the petitions were an initiative or a referendum, the council president denied our rights to speak about that as well. The council then proceeded to discuss, then vote on the matter. They voted 4-3 against sending the petitions to the Board of Elections, killing any chances for Allentown residents to vote on the issue.
Fluoridation Starts and Can Never End
It was a stinging defeat. In November 28th, 2000, the Allentown public water system began adding fluoride chemicals to the drinking water. The Pool Trust awarded $1,000 "Leonard Pool" Prizes to both Allentown Councilman Frank Concannon and to a local dentist for their pro-fluoridation efforts. Concannon was one of the four councilpeople whose votes denied Allentown residents the right to vote on the fluoridation plan.
Due to an arbitrary court decision, Allentown (like all other Pennsylvania communities) will not be allowed to cease fluoridation for any reason (unless state-wide legislation is passed giving localities the right to remove fluoride).
Last modified: 28 June 2003