Erie City Council votes to oppose state fluoride legislation

By John Guerriero
Staff writer


Erie City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday night to oppose passage of a state law that would require cities to fluoridate their water supplies, despite pleas from dentists and physicians who said the chemical prevents tooth decay in children and strengthens bones.

Council voted on a resolution sponsored by Council President Mario Bagnoni, opposing passage of House Bill 595, which was introduced this year in the Legislature.

Voting for the resolution were Bagnoni and council members Chris Maras and Rubye Jenkins-Husband. Opposed were Councilmen Rick Filippi and Mel Witherspoon. Two other council members, Joseph Borgia and Gayle Wright, were absent.

Bagnoni said council has held three public hearings on the issue over the years and the majority of citizens opposed fluoridation. A proposal to fluoridate the water was defeated in a ballot question, he added.

"Do you need another chemical in the water?" he asked.

He also wondered where the Erie City Water Authority, which runs the water system for the metropolitan area, would get the money for the fluoridation equipment.

James Rudy, the Erie City Water Authority's chief operating officer, said it would cost about $250,000 to install the fluoridation equipment at the Chestnut Street and Sommerheim water treatment plants.

Rudy said the authority would do whatever the majority of its customers want, which he said would probably require another ballot question.

Andy Kwasny, an orthodontist and vice president of the Pennsylvania Dental Association, said state public health grants might be available for installation of the fluoridation hardware.

David Shapter, a pediatric dental specialist and the fluoridation committee chairman of the Erie County Dental Association, said Allentown agreed in late 2000 to fluoridate its water supply and is paying for the equipment almost entirely with grants. In the 2000 U.S. Census, Allentown supplanted Erie as the state's third-largest city.

Putting fluoride in the system would cost 50 cents per person, per year, he said.

Marie Crocker, a Cambridge Springs dentist who also works at St. Paul's Neighborhood Free Clinic, said fluoridating the water would prevent children from undergoing unnecessary dental surgery due to tooth decay.

Fluoride -- found naturally in water but at levels too small to benefit people -- only helps teeth when they're forming, she said.

Tooth decay also can lead to problems such as heart disease and a weakened immune system, she said.

Brian J.N. Stark, D.O., said the advantages of fluoride far outweigh the disadvantages. Besides preventing tooth decay in young children, the chemical, in small doses, also strengthens bones in all people, decreasing the risks of osteoporosis and bone fractures, he said.

The fear that the chemical could cause cancer or teeth discoloration is unfounded when it's given in routine, recommended doses, he said.

Only one part per million of fluoride is put into the drinking water, Crocker said. "You'd probably have to drink the whole reservoir to hurt yourself,'' she said.

Stark, a family physician, said he and his wife, a pediatrician, prescribe fluoride pills to children older than six months, but he noted that some parents can't afford the prescriptions.

JOHN GUERRIERO can be reached at 814-870-1690. Send e-mail to

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Last modified: 11 September 2001