By PETER DURANTINE
Associated Press Writer
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) The chairman of a legislative environmental panel has bottled up a bill that would establish minimum fluoridation levels for Pennsylvania's public drinking water because he says it would be harmful.
"I think you're starting to cause more harm to the general public than good," said Rep. Arthur Hershey, chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
The state Health Department and the Pennsylvania Dental Association disagree with Hershey, and last month, in an unrelated event, launched a promotional effort and $300,000 grant program to increase the use of fluoride in community water systems.
"More than 50 years of research and water fluoridation for more than 134 million Americans have proven that fluoridation is safe, inexpensive and very effective in preventing tooth decay," said Charles M. Ludwig, public health dentist with the department's Oral Health Program.
The department will provide grants from $5,000 to $30,000 to fluoride-deficient water systems, based on population and the number of points through which treated water enters a distribution system. Of the 2,265 systems in Pennsylvania, only 190 are fluoridated.
It has become sort of a tradition in the General Assembly to reject proposals that would mandate water fluoridation statewide.
"This has been going on for years," said Rep. Thomas Tigue, D-Luzerne, sponsor of the latest fluoride bill. "People come out of the woodwork complaining about government intervention."
Opponents include the state chapter of the Health Alliance International, a global group of citizens, physicians and scientists who dispute fluoride's dental benefits, said Ellie Rudolph, the chapter's director. The alliance cites studies linking fluoride with cancer, genetic damage, brain damage and bone disease.
"Tooth decay is not waterborne," Rudolph said.
Proponents say most water supplies already contain natural fluoride and, according to the American Dental Association, the amount of fluoride added to community water is one part per million parts of water.
The debate goes back to 1945, when Grand Rapids, Mich. was the first community in the United States to fluoridate its public water.
The issue has kept several privately held water companies in Pennsylvania from fluoridation, including those serving Erie, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Latrobe where Rolling Rock beer is made from "mountain spring water" and York.
In April, Erie's city council adopted a resolution officially opposing the latest proposal.
Hershey, whose water is not fluoridated, said he has long been suspicious about the claims of health benefits from fluoridation.
In a letter responding to Rudolph's concerns, the Chester County Republican said his staff researched the subject and found "no solid scientific or medical evidence to show that fluoridation is of any beneficial help to public health, safety or welfare."
Hershey said local governments could address the issue if residents desire fluoridation, but he does not believe the State should mandate it.
"I just think some of this stuff is overdone," he said
Last modified: 10 July 1999