Articles on Erie City Fluoridation Vote

(In reverse chonological order.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Fluoride won't be on ballot

By Ron Wasielewski
Staff writer

The fluoridation debate is over, at least for the November election.

The Erie County Board of Elections on Monday voted 3-1 not to put the issue on the Nov. 6 election ballot. Erie County Councilman Fiore Leone voted for placing the issue on the ballot while County Council Chairman James Terrill and County Councilwomen Joy Greco and Carol Loll voted to keep the issue off the ballot.

The vote ended a petition drive led by Erie City Councilman Mario Bagnoni, an opponent of fluoridation, which he and others began in late September after the Erie City Water Authority voted Sept. 20 to fluoridate the metropolitan water supply.

"The issue is definitely dead as far as the (Nov. 6) election is concerned," said Greco during a telephone interview Monday. Greco said that although she is not in favor of fluoridating the water system, she "was obliged to vote against" the ballot question because the petition missed a 90-day deadline for such questions.

"We were told by (Erie County Solicitor Elizabeth Malc) that the petition had to be presented to the board 90 days before the election," said Greco, who noted that the petition with the required 1,400 signatures was presented to the board in early October.

"That deadline was obviously missed, so I felt duty-bounty to vote against the referendum," said Greco.

Loll, who also is chairwoman of the election board, noted that Erie County Council has no authority to dictate policy to the water authority. "They are a separate entity and we can't tell them what to do."

She also noted that it was not clear to her whether the signatures presented to the board were, as required by law, only from people who use city water. That would include the city and all or parts of Millcreek, Harborcreek, Lawrence Park and Summit townships and Wesleyville Borough.

"I asked the question and nobody seemed to know the answer," said Loll.

"I don't feel that it's bad to have fluoridated water," said Loll. "But I really can't comment further on the issue because we have well water (at her home)."

"This is the final act in the fluoridation issue," said David Shapter, a pediatric dentist and co-chairman of the Citizens for Better Dental Health who attended Monday's meeting. "The Erie City Water Authority made the right decision (in voting to add fluoride to the water system). This is a health issue not a political one," he said.

Shapter said the fluoridation of city water will begin in Spring 2002.

"I'm a little ticked off about this," said Leone, the only member of the election board who voted for placing the issue on the ballot. "We still have a representative government and I believe people have the right to make decisions like this."

Leone noted that at one time he was for adding fluoride to the water supply. "But I studied the issue and I discovered that there are at least as many people against fluoridation as there are for it (and because of that) it should be on the ballot."

Bagnoni, who helped gather signatures on the fluoridation petitions, said that attorney George Schroeck will try today for an injunction to place the question on the ballot, either for the Nov. 6 election or for the election in Fall 2002.

Bagnoni also questioned the 90-day rule. "How could I meet (the deadline)," he said. "I only had two days at the end of September to gather the signatures."

The fluoridation issue was one of three items on the election board's agenda Monday night.

The board also approved the layout of the election ballot and approved a voter location change involving Millcreek's 16th District.

Greco said the voters in Millcreek's 16th District will cast their ballots during the Nov. 6 election at the Millcreek Youth Athletic Association building at 2614 Colonial Ave. and not at the Suburban YWCA at 4247 West Ridge Road.

"The voters in that district will be receiving a notification about that change," said Greco.

RON WASIELEWSKI can be reached at 870-1794. Send e-mail to

Thursday, September 20, 2001

City will let voters speak about fluoridation

By Kevin Flowers
Staff writer

Erie City Council voted Wednesday night to ask the Erie County Board of Elections to place the issue of fluoridating the metropolitan Erie water supply on the ballot for the Nov. 6 municipal election.

Council voted 4-3 to approve the resolution, sponsored by council President Mario Bagnoni, an outspoken opponent of fluoridation. The move was lauded by many of the more than 100 citizens who packed City Council Chambers Wednesday night to voice opinions both for and against fluoridation.

"All I ever wanted was for the people to decide,'' Bagnoni said after the meeting.

A related resolution, sponsored by Councilman and Democratic mayoral candidate Rick Filippi, sought to ask the Erie City Water Authority to begin adding fluoride, a naturally occurring substance credited with preventing tooth decay, to the water supply.

It initially appeared that Filippi's resolution also passed 4-3. But Councilwoman Rubye Jenkins-Husband, who said nothing when City Clerk James Klemm polled council members for their votes, later told Klemm she meant to vote "no'' for Filippi's resolution.

The vote on Filippi's resolution was held after council members voted on Bagnoni's request.

Jenkins-Husband said after Wednesday's meeting she "got confused'' on the council dais after voting yes on the ballot question resolution. "I thought because I voted yes for the ballot, they knew I meant no on fluoridation,'' Jenkins-Husband said.

"If you don't say anything, it's a yes vote,'' Filippi said. "As far as I'm concerned, it passed.''

Klemm said he recorded Jenkins-Husband's vote on the Filippi resolution as a no, so the measure was officially defeated. "If Rick wants to challenge it, he can,'' Klemm said.

Council members Bagnoni, Jenkins-Husband, Chris Maras and Larry Meredith voted in favor of Bagnoni's resolution, with Filippi, Joseph Borgia and Mel Witherspoon opposing it.

Filippi, Borgia and Witherspoon voted in favor of asking the Water Authority to fluoridate the water supply, with Bagnoni, Jenkins-Husband, Meredith and Maras opposed.

On Tuesday, Erie County Council unanimously approved a resolution asking the county Board of Elections to place the issue on the November ballot. The county has said it is researching whether the referendum is legal, would be binding or non-binding, and whether there is still time to put it on the ballot.

Citizens For Better Dental Health, a local organization supporting fluoridation, has vowed to take legal action to stop any ballot referendum, co-chairman William G. Sesler said.

Sesler, who attended Wednesday night's meeting, called such a referendum illegal.

A memo given to council members Tuesday by City Solicitor Greg Karle stated council's resolution is a non-binding request. That means the Water Authority, according to Karle's memo, "is under no legal compulsion to adhere to City Council's vote either way.''

About 20 citizens, including more than a dozen local dentists, spoke out in favor of fluoridation Wednesday. About a dozen said they opposed adding fluoride to the water supply.

The Water Authority supplies water to all city of Erie residents and those living in parts of several surrounding municipalities.

The authority estimates start-up costs to fluoridate the water would be $500,000. Khalil Rabat, the water authority board's chairman, indicated Wednesday the authority is willing to study fluoridation further before voting to implement it.

KEVIN FLOWERS can be reached at 870-1693. Send e-mail to

Thursday, September 20, 2001

Citizens group vows to go to court to keep fluoridation issue off ballot

By George Miller
Staff writer

A local organization supporting the fluoridation of Erie's public water supply vowed Wednesday to go to court to halt any attempt to place a referendum on fluoridation on the Nov. 6 ballot, co-chairman William G. Sesler said.

"There will be no referendum on the ballot,'' said Sesler, a lawyer who represents Citizens for Better Dental Health. "It is illegal."

The group is made up of local dentists, community leaders and health officials, Sesler said.

Erie County Council on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to ask the Erie County Board of Elections to put the issue on the ballot. The Election Board is made up of council members who are not facing re-election this year: Joy Greco, Carol J. Loll, Fiore Leone and Council Chairman James B. Terrill.

Sesler said the Erie City Water Authority, even though it was created by the city of Erie, is an independent agency and ultimately has the sole power to determine whether the water will be fluoridated.

"They are not subject to the control of the municipality that created them," he said. "The city and county cannot control them."

As a result, he said, any ballot question involving the Water Authority's operation would have to be advisory in nature and therefore nonbinding.

But a nonbinding referendum is illegal in Pennsylvania, he said. "The county Board of Elections is without the power to place nonbinding questions on the ballot."

Sesler, a former state senator, said three separate Commonwealth Court decisions over the past decade "have ended the practice of placing nonbinding advisory questions on the ballot in Pennsylvania."

He said there also does not appear to be enough time to put the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot, although the law is "very hazy" on that issue. "The answer appears to be no," he said.

Sesler said he is confident that the courts would uphold an injunction to keep it off the ballot.

He said the organization supports fluoridation. "The evidence and practical experience of over 55 years is overwhelming," he said. "It is so important and would help so many."

Sesler outlined his views Wednesday in a seven-page letter to Erie County Executive Judy Lynch.

Lynch on Wednesday signed council's resolution on the ballot question, but she said she's not sure of the legalities of whether it can be placed on the ballot and that it is being researched.

As to whether it should be placed on the ballot, she said, "I don't want to tell City Council what to do. But when I look at the whole scheme of things, it appears to me fairer to give people in Millcreek, Harborcreek and other places that use city water an opportunity to have a part in this decision."

She said she has mixed feelings about fluoridation.

While it probably helps poor children, she said, "We do know that fluoridation presents a lot of problems to industry. That's because if they use water in a process, they have to take the fluoride out. I don't know how significant a problem it is for industry. It would be one more expense how big an expense I don't know."

Florindo J. Fabrizio, the county's clerk of elections, said County Solicitor Arthur D. Martinucci is reviewing the laws on referendums. "We don't have an official opinion," Fabrizio said.

But Fabrizio said the Election Board cannot place a nonbinding question on the ballot. The question would be whether this referendum would be nonbinding.

He said it is unclear whether the referendum, if placed on the ballot, would be countywide or just for voters in areas served by the Water Authority.

Martinucci said he has just begun his research and doesn't have any answers yet. He said his research will center on whether it is a binding or nonbinding referendum; who can put it on the ballot; and the deadline for doing it.

Terrill, who is not only the chairman of County Council but also on the Election Board, said he is waiting for a legal opinion on the referendum issue before discussing it.

GEORGE MILLER can be reached at 870-1724. Send e-mail to

Thursday, September 20, 2001

Summit, Millcreek have no formal opinion on fluoridation

By Deborah McQuaid
Staff writer

While a number of Summit Township residents have signed a petition opposing fluoridation of the metropolitan Erie water supply, neither the Summit nor Millcreek Township governments has formulated opinions on the subject, officials said Wednesday.

Summit Township Supervisor Shirley King said some residents had planned to attend the Erie City Council meeting Wednesday night to express their views against fluoridation.

King said she believes placing the issue on the ballot is a good idea. "I would support that not only in the city (of Erie), but in the county, since part of Summit is served by city water," she said. "I think it's something that everybody should make a choice and decide what they want."

As for her personal views on the subject, King said she hasn't formed an opinion. She said she recently received a large booklet of information from a group that supports fluoridation, but hasn't had the opportunity to study it.

"It's a rather extensive bit of information," King said. "I'm sure (all the Summit supervisors) would research it and do as much investigation as we could and then make a decision."

Summit Supervisor Marlin Coon said he sees both pros and cons to the fluoridation issue. "Too much (fluoridation in the water) is not good, too little is worthless and the age that it is beneficial is for the children," Coon said.

"If you took the 45 million gallons a day that goes into the Erie water system, the reality of what percentage of that water is drunk by that age bracket, it would be such a minute percentage. All the rest of that 45 million gallons, it's a worthless endeavor," Coon said.

"Isn't it easier to give your child a pill?"

Coon said he's not personally in favor or against fluoridation. "I'm just wondering about, is it truly a tremendous benefit or is it a feel-good situation (for legislators)?" he said. "In all practicality, should not the child be taking a fluoride pill, assuring he's getting the proper amount of fluoride?

Coon said he doesn't think the issue should be placed on the ballot. "I think that responsible County Council members should be certainly willing to make a proper decision and not lay it on the hands of voters and not duck out of it. It should be their responsibility to make," he said.

Coon said he hasn't heard any comments from Summit residents about the issue.

Millcreek Township Supervisor Sue Weber said she didn't know whether it would have to be a binding question, meaning that the voters' decision would stand, in order to be placed on the ballot. But she said if Millcreek supervisors were to express their opinions on the issue, they would first have to ask township residents their thoughts.

"We've had a few letters and phone calls, but we were thinking we wouldn't have any part in the decision (to fluoridate the water), because it's a city issue," Weber said. "We've never called for public comment. If it's on the (election) ballot and we're going to be asked to take a stand on it, we're going to have to solicit the opinion of our constituents."

Weber said she hadn't been paying much attention to the issue "because it's an issue where we don't have any control." Weber said she'd have to study it before making a decision.


Wednesday, September 19, 2001

CDC official says flouride is safe

By David Bruce
Staff writer


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that adding it to community drinking water was one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. Local dentists said they believe that fluoridating Erie's water supply will reduce tooth decay among its children.

Fluoridation opponents have called the substance "rat poison" and claim that it causes myriad health problems ranging from mottled teeth to cancer. Health officials with the CDC and American Dental Association refute those claims, saying fluoride is safe and beneficial.

Erie City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on a resolution sponsored by Councilman Rick Filippi that would modify the city's water treatment system to allow for the addition of fluoride. If council passes the resolution, fluoride could be added to the city's water system by early in 2002.

Council also is scheduled to consider a resolution sponsored by Councilman Mario Bagnoni, a longtime fluoridation opponent. His resolution would ask the Erie County Board of Elections to place the fluoridation issue on the Nov. 6 municipal election ballot. That resolution might not be needed because Erie County Council members agreed to consider the issue as the Election Board.

Scott Presson, D.D.S., chief of program services with the CDC's Division of Oral Health, talked this week with the Erie Times-News about fluoride, its benefits and risks.

Q. Can drinking fluoridated water cause fluorosis, a permanent tooth discoloration caused by ingesting too much fluoride?

There may be a small increase in the milder forms of fluorosis (that might make teeth appear even whiter than normal) but this has been recognized as a reasonable and minor risk when balanced against fluoride's preventative protection. We have not seen an increase in the more severe types of fluorosis (that might cause unsightly brown discoloration and can only be remedied by expensive dental covers).

It is more likely that fluorosis occurs from inappropriate toothpaste use, where a child may be ingesting the toothpaste once or twice a day, or from drinking water that is naturally fluoridated well above the recommended level.

Q. Can drinking fluoridated water cause cancer, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis or kidney damage?

There is no credible evidence of any adverse health effect from drinking water fluoridated at the optimal concentration. There can be adverse effects from taking a very large dose of fluoride, or a large dose over an extended period of time.

Some places have naturally occurring fluoride that is 20 times the optimal level. Chronic ingestion of that much fluoride can lead to skeletal problems. But we've been fluoridating our water in this country for more than 50 years, and currently more than 100 million people drink fluoridated water, and we haven't seen any of that.

Q. Fluoridation opponents often call fluoride a toxin, meaning that it is a poison made by an animal, plant or bacteria. Is that true, and what does it mean?

There are a number of substances that we ingest on a daily basis -- such as vitamins and some minerals -- that could lead to problems if we ingest them in extremely large amounts. We think the amount of fluoride in fluoridated water is very safe, and those kinds of problems won't happen.

Q. Are there any studies that prove fluoridated water reduces tooth decay?

There have been quite a few studies. The most recent national study was a 1986-87 study of school-age children by the National Institute of Dental Research. It showed an 18 percent decrease in tooth decay between children who drank fluoridated water all their lives and those who did not.

Q. Are fluoride tablets as effective at preventing tooth decay as fluoridated water?

Tablets are effective, but they have some limitations. Fluoridated water reaches the entire population, children through adults in the elder years.

Studies have shown that compliance for taking fluoride tablets is poor in the long term. It requires active participation from the parents. Fluoridated water is passive. You don't have to do anything except drink the water.

Q. How much does it cost to fluoridate a city's water supply?

It's difficult to say. It depends on the size of the city and the number of (water treatment plants). In our 1999 report, we estimated it cost 72 cents per person per year. In larger cities like Chicago or Cleveland it may cost as little as 25 cents per person per year.

Q. How is fluoride added to a community's drinking water?

It is added at a water treatment plant. There are three main compounds that are used, depending on the size of the system and what the engineers feel is the best way to fluoridate the water.

One compound is a granule, another is a powder and the third is a liquid. Small amounts of these compounds are added. It is often compared to one drop in a bathtub full of water.

Q. Some fluoridation opponents say they simply don't want people putting substances into their drinking water. What is your response?

There are at least 40 different substances used by water utilities, depending on what needs to be done to prepare the water. Some substances make the water clear, others prevent or reduce odors, and others make the water taste good.

Q. Is it safe to drink fluoridated water?

As a scientist, it is hard to say if something is absolutely safe. Based on current scientific evidence, the CDC believes fluoridated water is safe and effective at reducing tooth decay.

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

'Selfish' attitudes toward fluoridation


Unfortunately, we live in a society that is "me" oriented. If there is no direct benefit to ourselves, it cannot be good for anyone. ... It appears that City Councilmen Bagnoni and Maras have this selfish attitude about adding fluoride to the water of Erie.

I no longer benefit from fluoride in our water either, but there are several children in Erie who would. Dentists and doctors agree that children should receive fluoride tablets until they are 16 years of age. My 15-year-old son has never brought home a paper from school giving permission for him to receive the tablets in high school. I have the option of having three of my children take the tablets in grade school, but I give them at home. The children that do receive fluoride in school miss receiving it during winter, spring, and summer vacation. Our medical insurance no longer covers the cost of fluoride tablets.

I would gladly pay the cost of about $1 a year to fluoridate our water. A year ago, SOD Fluoride 2.2 mg cost our family about $12 a year for 1,000 tablets. Now it costs us $120 for the same amount. We are a family with five children, and because there is a different strength for different age groups, we have three different dosages to purchase. Though our family can still afford this cost, there are several families in Erie who cannot.

I'm a product of Mr. Bagnoni's so-called rat poison. I am a healthy mother with strong, healthy teeth. I have no health problems or any side effects from receiving fluoride in water all my life, except for the seven years I have lived in Erie.

Louanna Donajkowski



Wednesday, Spetember 19, 2001

Dentist urges fluoridation as community health benefit

Community water fluoridation is the most important and cost effective means for a community to provide the proper amount of fluoride to all of its citizens to control and prevent dental disease. It is non-discriminatory and can reach everyone regardless of their income, education level, or abilities.

I agree it is important for people to realize the importance of their responsible actions controlling dietary habits, using proven effective home care measures of brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing, and seeking regular professional care. However, a very significant percentage of the public do not do this; and the rest of us are affected by this fact.

After months of concerted efforts by concerned citizens and responsible public officials, it is time for all the people of Erie to show their support. If the voter turnout of the recent past is any indication of the expected public interest and support, we will all be doomed to many more years without the benefits of fluoridated drinking water. The citizens of Erie will be leaving another generation behind with a legacy of increased dental disease, pain and loss of productivity due to missed workdays for more fillings and extractions.

This is a community issue now, which requires community backing to succeed. The ground work has been done for the people of Erie, if they fail to follow through by not expressing their desire for city council to vote for water fluoridation, then they will have to come up with the means to take care of all the thousands of people with increased dental care needs.

We have done our part; now do yours! What every parent and grandparent needs to do now is call ... Mrs. Rubye Jenkins-Husband, Mr. Chris Maras, Mr. Joe Borgia, Mr. Larry Meredith, Mr. Mel Witherspoon, Mr. Rick Filippi and even Mr. Mario Bagnoni and tell them how they should vote on Wednesday, Sept. 19 in support of the resolution for water fluoridation. Do it now, before it is too late!

David E. Shapter, DDS


Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Bagnoni wants fluoride question on ballot

By Kevin Flowers
Staff writer

Erie City Council President Mario Bagnoni wants voters, not council, to decide whether fluoridation of the city water supply is a good idea.

Bagnoni, an opponent of fluoridation, has sponsored a resolution for Wednesday night's council meeting asking the Erie County Board of Elections to place the fluoridation issue on the Nov. 6 municipal election ballot.

Councilman Rick Filippi has proposed a resolution, also on Wednesday night's council agenda, asking the Erie City Water Authority to modify the water treatment system to allow for the addition of fluoride, a natural occurring element aimed at preventing tooth decay.

Three current council members Joseph Borgia, Mel Witherspoon and Larry Meredith have indicated they will support Filippi's resolution, meaning the measure has enough votes to pass.

If council approves Filippi's resolution, the Erie City Water Authority is expected to do the same, authority spokesman James Rudy has said. That means fluoride could be added to the city's water system by early 2002.

Bagnoni said he sponsored the ballot question resolution "because I think it should be on the ballot for people to vote on. People should have a choice.''

"It only benefits kids who are up to 12 years old, not everybody,'' Bagnoni, 79, said of fluoride. "It won't do me no good. I'm on my way out.''

Bagnoni said he expects council chambers to be jammed with both opponents and supporters of fluoridation Wednesday for the 7:30 p.m. meeting.

Monday, September 17, 2001

It's about time!

Erie City Council can say "Yes" or "No" to an important question this week. It appears that council, at long last, will say "Yes." It has been a long time in coming, but we are not complaining.

The issue is the fluoridation of Erie's public water supply. For years council has balked at fluoridation, despite evidence that it helps prevent tooth decay, despite the urgings of dentists, despite the fact that other communities across the nation have fluoridated their water for years.

We can recall when the idea was once denounced as a communist plot. That has shifted into warnings that the element fluorine is a poison a characteristic it shares with chlorine, one of the poison gases of choice in World War I, which has been added to our water for years to kill bacteria. We suspect that those who oppose fluoridation will choose whatever argument seems scariest. Quackery flourishes in the anti-fluoridation camp.

However, this time the proposal comes from Councilman Rick Filippi "It's not a campaign issue of mine," said the mayoral candidate, "but it is consistent with my vision of Erie being a progressive city. Erie is one of the few places in Pennsylvania that has not done this."

Supporters outside Council include Erie Superintendent of Schools James Barker: "This is particularly critical for those students who cannot afford the high cost of dental care. I think Mr. Filippi is showing the type of leadership of weighing the evidence and making decisions based on the best interest of the community. I think that's a positive move for the city."

A majority of Council seems to agree. It is about time. If the resolution does not pass, Council will make the city of Erie a laughing-stock.

Friday, September 14, 2001

Report: Region's children have worst teeth in state

By David Bruce
Staff writer

Edith Reyes Bacerra sat in the dentist's chair, her mouth and eyes wide open as David Shapter, D.D.S., drilled into one of her molars.

The 6-year-old Erie girl had complained about a toothache for more than a month but her parents couldn't take her to a dentist.

Local dentists would not accept the family's Medicaid insurance. They tried scheduling an appointment at one of Erie's two dental clinics, but both were booked for months in advance.

"She was in so much pain that she couldn't eat foods that were cold or hard to chew," said Evelia Bacerra, Edith's mother. Bacerra spoke through an interpreter. She and her family were born in Mexico and came to Erie four years ago and work as migrant workers.

"She couldn't eat apples," Bacerra said. "She loves candy, but she had to spit out a piece of gum because she couldn't chew it."

A University of Pittsburgh study released this summer by the Pennsylvania Department of Health stated that children living in northwestern Pennsylvania have significantly higher rates of tooth decay and untreated tooth decay than children living elsewhere in the state.

The Pitt study surveyed Pennsylvania children in first, third, ninth and 11th grades between October 1998 and October 2000. It discovered that 65 percent of children living in northwestern Pennsylvania had at least one cavity, compared with 47 percent of children statewide.

The study also discovered that 46 percent of northwestern Pennsylvania children had untreated tooth decay, compared with 27 percent of children statewide.

Local dentists and Neil Gardner, D.D.S., Pennsylvania's public health dentist, said there are several reasons why so many northwestern Pennsylvania children have bad teeth: a lack of education about proper dental techniques, limited or no access to dentists, and unfluoridated drinking water.

"There is no single reason," Gardner said. "A lack of fluoride is one cause, but it's not the only one. Children aren't learning proper brushing techniques, parents are putting children to bed with bottles, and children aren't going to the dentist regularly."

Children also aren't learning how to brush properly or using dental floss daily, Gardner added.

"It's a matter of learning a few habits," he said.

"These are basic things children and adults can do to reduce tooth decay."

Limited access to dentists
Children such as Edith Bacerra, whose families live at or below the poverty level, have few options for dental care in northwestern Pennsylvania. Medical assistance is accepted only by two dental clinics those at the Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King centers and a handful of private dentists around the area.

Many dentists stopped accepting medical assistance in the 1980s when changes in the system made it much more difficult for dentists to get reimbursed for their services.

"It became much more cumbersome," Joseph Kohler, D.D.S., incoming president of the Erie County Dental Society, said. "Plus, (medical assistance) only reimbursed dentists for 45 percent to 55 percent of their standard fee. That doesn't even cover their overhead."

Edith ended up at Shapter's Peach Street office, not because the dentist accepted the family's Medicaid insurance, but because a Pittsburgh man agreed to pay her bill after learning about her troubles.

Shapter said parents who can't afford to pay for regular dental cleanings typically wait until their child experiences tooth pain before scheduling an office visit.

"By the time you see some of the children, their dental problems are quite advanced," Shapter said.

Some northwestern Pennsylvania families who can afford trips to the dentist don't visit often enough because they must drive long distances to the nearest office. There are areas of Forest and McKean counties where people must drive 90 minutes or more to the nearest dentist.

No fluoride
Erie is the most populated city in Pennsylvania that does not fluoridate its water. More than two-thirds of U.S. cities fluoridate their water, and many soon experience lower rates of tooth decay among their children after beginning to fluoridate, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

"Fluoride by itself won't solve our problem, but it will put a dent into it," Kohler said.

"I see a 20 percent drop in tooth decay if we fluoridate. That means instead of waiting four or five months for an appointment at one of the clinics, you may only have to wait a month or two."

Fluoridation opponents insist that fluoride, an ion of the element fluorine, is an acute toxin that can stain teeth, weaken bones, even cause cancer. Shapter has said fluoride can cause health problems if it is taken in large amounts amounts much higher than the 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million recommended to fluoridate water supplies.

The most common health problem associated with fluoride is fluorosis, a permanent tooth discoloration. Moderate and severe cases of fluorosis cause unsightly brown discolorations that can be remedied only with expensive dental covers.

"That's why we recommend that children only use a small amount of toothpaste when they brush and that they don't swallow toothpaste on a regular basis," Shapter said. Fluoride toothpaste contains 1,000 times more fluoride than treated water does.

Other health claims against fluoride have not been proven, said CDC officials.

Shaper finished drilling Edith Bacerra's molar and placed a metal crown on the tooth. He told her she was a good patient and followed her out to the office lobby, where her parents were waiting for her.

"Edith's enamel is stubbly. It's harder to clean than other children's teeth," Shapter said after the family left his office. "This little girl really needs to have a good relationship with her dentist. I hope she gets it."

DAVID BRUCE can be reached at 870-1736. Send e-mail to

Friday, September 14, 2001

Council to vote next week on adding fluoride to water

By Scott Westcott
Staff writer

Fluoride could be added to Erie's public water supply by early 2002 under a controversial plan that had majority support from Erie City Council as of Thursday.

Councilman Rick Filippi has proposed a resolution for Wednesday night's council meeting that asks the Erie City Water Authority to modify the water treatment system to allow for the addition of fluoride, a naturally occurring element aimed at preventing tooth decay.

Water Authority Executive Director Jim Rudy said if the resolution receives City Council approval Wednesday, he expects the Water Authority to approve the plan on Thursday. The authority would then move forward with adding equipment to fluoridate the water system which serves more than 52,000 homes and businesses in Erie and the suburbs by late winter or early spring 2002.

The Water Authority supplies water to all city of Erie residents and those living in parts of Wesleyville, Harborcreek, Lawrence Park, Millcreek and Summit townships. Bulk water also is sold to Summit and Millcreek townships. Millcreek also distributes bulk water to customers in some parts of Fairview.

Startup costs are estimated at $500,000, with annual fluoride costs of about $70,000, said Rudy. A rate increase would not be needed, and the cost to the average residential customer would be about $1 a year, he said.

Fluoridation does not affect the taste or smell of the water, Rudy said.

Passage of the proposal would end more than three decades of successful efforts by vocal opponents to keep fluoride out of Erie's water supply. Filippi said opponents have used "blatant lies'' to generate fear about fluoridation.

"It's not a campaign issue of mine, but it is consistent with my vision of Erie being a progressive city,'' said Filippi, the Democratic nominee for Erie mayor. "Erie is one of the few places in Pennsylvania that has not done this. North East has fluoride in the water, and Edinboro fluoridated not too long ago. I don't see any problems in those places with the so-called rat-poison effect.''

Meanwhile, Councilman Mario Bagnoni said fluoride in Erie's water threatens the health of local citizens, particularly older people.

"We don't need another chemical in the water basically it's rat poison,'' said Bagnoni. "It has a direct effect on elderly people by damaging their bones.''

Through the years fluoride opponents have claimed that adding it to water supplies increases the risk of health problems ranging from more tooth decay to thyroid-related diseases.

Many local dentists counter that scientific research has indicated there are no ill health effects from adding fluoride to the water supply. Neil Gardner, D.D.S., public health dentist for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said fluoride has been tested repeatedly and found to be safe when used as recommended.

"These people are looking for reasons not to do it,'' Gardner said. "The fact is, there is nothing but bizarre quack complaints. It makes you wonder. These people don't have qualifications like the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which again recommended Aug. 17 that every community fluoridate its water.''

The efforts by dentists and fluoride supporters have been bolstered by a recent University of Pittsburgh study that found children in northwestern Pennsylvania have more tooth decay and untreated tooth decay than children statewide a fact health officials attribute in part to unfluoridated water in some parts of the region.

On next council agenda
An overflow crowd is expected in Council Chambers at Erie City Hall Wednesday night as advocates and opponents lobby council members prior to an expected vote. Scores of dentists from Erie County and supporters carrying signs are expected to speak in favor of fluoridation. Bagnoni said opponents will bring petitions with "10,000 names'' of people who do not want fluoride added to the water.

As of Thursday, four council members said they favored fluoridation. Supporting Filippi's resolution were Councilmen Joe Borgia, Larry Meredith and Melvin Witherspoon. "I'm 70 percent yea, 30 percent nay at this point,'' said Witherspoon. "It's for the children of this community. It's not going to help me or my grandma. If I had to vote today, right now, I would have to say yes.''

Bagnoni and Councilman Chris Maras oppose the resolution. Both say fluoridation would be costly and that it is better to administer fluoride tablets to children than to add it to the entire water supply. Maras said a public hearing should be held prior to any vote on fluoridation.

"My two sons have grown up, took fluoride pills, and they both have excellent teeth,'' said Maras. "I believe tablets could be made available through the schools, gearing toward the percentage of the population that would benefit from fluoride.''

Erie Superintendent of Schools James Barker said fluoride tablets are now distributed to students who have parental permission. Barker added that he supports fluoridation of the public water supply.

"This is particularly critical for those students who cannot afford the high cost of dental care,'' said Barker. "I think Mr. Filippi is showing the type of leadership of weighing the evidence and making decisions based on best interest of the community. I think that's a positive move for the city.''

Councilwoman Rubye Jenkins-Husband remained undecided as of Thursday. However, Jenkins-Husband said she is investigating state grants that might be available to help pay for the fluoridation equipment if the plan does move forward.

"I'm still looking over the information and materials,'' said Jenkins-Husband. "Right now I am deep into reading about the issue.''

Next week's vote on fluoridation is a product of several months of quiet but intense lobbying of council members by local community leaders, dentists and health officials who make up an organization called Citizens for Better Dental Health. The committee is co-chaired by former state Sen. William Sesler, who became frustrated by the repeated victories of fluoride opponents.

"I told the dentists, you don't have a scientific problem, you have a political problem,'' said Sesler.

Sesler said timing has been a key aspect of the lobbying effort. City Council recently renewed a lease with the Water Authority an issue that could have complicated a fluoridation effort if left unresolved.

Joseph Kohler, D.D.S., incoming president of the Erie County Dental Society, said he and other dentists realize the timing is right to gain approval of water fluoridation before new council members assume their posts in January.

"We need to get it passed before the Three Amigos come in'' said Kohler, referring to Bagnoni and former councilmen James Thompson and James Casey. "They will never approve fluoridation. If it doesn't happen now, we've lost a golden opportunity.''

Filippi said he is confident that, if approved Wednesday, fluoridation will not be repealed after the new council is sworn in.

"In government you typically don't overturn decisions of previously elected bodies,'' said Filippi. "There has to be some stability in the law.''

SCOTT WESTCOTT can be reached at 870-1733. Send e-mail to

May 26, 2001

Fluoridation defended

I would like to respond to Mr. Bagnoni's ... remarks concerning fluoride in the Erie water system. Mr. Bagnoni does not see any advantage for himself in having fluorinated water ... when in reality there are advantages even for older citizens.

Sodium fluoride is reportedly beneficial in the treatment of osteoporosis. The long-term benefit of therapy is not known. In other words, the medical researchers do not know yet how much help it provides, but they know it does help.

Sodium fluoride may be found in some rat and even roach poisons. ... (But) chlorine is also a poison. When we take a drink of water or cook we are taking in the poison chlorine. Even taking a shower or bath we are exposed to it. Swimming in a public or private pool leads to additional exposure. Maybe chlorine should be removed from the water system. Then we can all decide for ourselves if we want to be exposed to it by adding it on our own.

Sodium fluoride has 50 years of proven advantage in preventing tooth decay in children. I wish it had been available when I was a child so I would not have a lot of metal in my teeth. To put fluoride in the water system would be cost-efficient in the long run. All children would be receiving it, not just the ones whose parents and health care providers make sure they have it. Schools would not have to administer it. Preschool age children would be receiving it in their early years. ...

Mr. Bagnoni, ... you should be doing things for the benefit of the citizens of Erie.

Marianne Taft-Schroeder


April 4, 2001

Erie Water Authority defended

I neither reside in Erie nor pay taxes there, but continue to be dismayed by some of the actions of Erie City Council. I refer mainly to those regarding the Water Authority.

As a homeowner in the northernmost reaches of Summit Township I've had several meetings with Erie City Water Authority trying to get municipal water extended to our address. In spite of a lack of success in this, I've formed not unfavorable opinions of the Authority's managers, their operations, and their longer-range goals. I've also listened with interest to Mr. Rudy's messages on the radio. ...

The impression I have is that the Authority is being operated at least as effectively as it was just a few years ago when under the thumb of Erie City Council and their appointed cronies. Thus it was discouraging a week or so ago to hear of City Council's motion to take back the Authority because it was overly burdened with managers and was thereby wasting city taxpayers' money. If this take-back were to happen, Council would then, presumably, place it under the direction of their own appointed people who probably would have little or no working utility experience, no knowledge of engineering, no knowledge of geophysics, no knowledge of sound financial practices.

This motion, of course, followed fast on the heels of council's most recent rejection of water fluoridation as something that was not in the best interests of the Water Authority's urban customers. ...

Here I have to assume that council members have made no efforts to enlighten themselves regarding the benefits of fluoridation (and its hazards) before passing judgment. Why could they not seek out statistics for the majority of U.S. cities that have been fluoridating for years? What about the viewpoints of health authorities and experts at the federal government level? ...

Finally, it seems to me that concern for the Water Authority and its policies now extends well beyond the city's boundaries. ...

Erie is blessed as are only a handful of cities in this vast country of ours in having such immediate proximity to the most valuable of all natural resources. It would be a shame if this blessing were not handled to maximum advantage in future years. Let's make sure it's not solely in the hands of Erie City Council.

Frederick H. Sexsmith


March 26, 2001

Provide fluoridation for Erie

Over 50 years ago, when my father, Dr. C. M.Baker, was president of the Erie County Dental Association, dentists were treating people's teeth with fluoride to prevent cavities. Left out, of course, were children of the poor, who did not receive regular dental care. The dentists at that time proposed adding fluoride to the water supply so that all could benefit from this technology. The uproar from the ignorant was deafening, and no action was taken.

It seems times have not changed and stubborn opposition persists. Some even fear fluoride as a dangerous chemical, not knowing that chlorine, presently in our water, is not only violently explosive but can wipe out your lungs in seconds at high concentrations.

Please, politicians, get with the 21st century and follow the lead of the rest of Pennsylvania and provide fluoridation for Erie.

John Baker



March 17, 2001

No campaign signs in public areas

The city of Erie has given fair warning to politicians and their supporters: The city will remove political signs from city boulevards, parks and other public property, said John Barzano, the city's director of public works.

Bureau of Parks employees will take the signs to the bureau's garage at 311 Marsh St., where they can be reclaimed during the primary season, Barzano said. They would be destroyed after the May 15 primary if no one claims them.

Barzano said he hasn't seen any signs on city property, but it can become a problem without enforcement.

The use of private signs on city property would require approval from the city, he said.

The city prohibits the signs to avoid clutter and so they don't obstruct motorists' view of other traffic.

Pundt wants mayoral debates on television
City Controller Brenda Pundt, a Democratic candidate for mayor of Erie, is calling for televised debates in the mayor's race. "The election of the next mayor of the city of Erie is very important to the future of this community,'' she said in prepared remarks.

Pundt is asking Erie's television stations, the League of Women Voters or a civic organization to sponsor a series of televised debates.

"The citizens of Erie need to hear the issues and to know where the candidates stand to make an informed decision,'' Pundt said.

Council pulls plug on electric board
Erie City Council took a preliminary vote Wednesday to dissolve the city of Erie's Electrical Contractors' Examining Board and give the city's Bureau of Code Enforcement the authority to supervise licensed electrical contractors.

Council had little choice.

Council's vote followed a Dec. 7 Commonwealth Court ruling that stripped the board of its regulatory power over electricians who work in Erie. The court said the board only has advisory powers.

Council formed the board in 1973 to oversee the licensing of electricians and to handle disciplinary action. The court ruled that council overstepped its bounds, saying administrative powers belong to the mayor or a city department designated by the city's top official.

Council could take a final vote at its March 21 meeting.

Anti-fluoride measure passes narrowly
Council voted, 3-2 Wednesday to oppose the passage of a state law that would require cities to fluoridate their water supplies. The vote came despite pleas from dentists and physicians who said the chemical, in the proper doses, prevents tooth decay in children and strengthens bones.

Council President Mario Bagnoni, a longtime opponent of fluoridation, said residents don't need another chemical added to their drinking water. He also questioned the $250,000 cost of installing the equipment, though the health professionals said state public health grants might be available.

"It seems funny to me that dentists are pushing fluoride to put themselves out of business,'' Bagnoni said.

"Why else would we push it?'' asked Cambridge Springs dentist Marie Crocker.

Crocker said dentistry is changing largely from drilling and filling cavities to maintaining old fillings, whitening and other cosmetic measures. She said dentists would rather do the cosmetic work than painful repairs due to tooth decay.

March 15, 2001

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 870-1690. Send e-mail to

March 14, 2001

Electrical board's future in doubt

By John Guerriero
Staff writer

Erie City Council is expected to take a preliminary vote tonight on whether to dissolve the city of Erie's Electrical Contractors' Examining Board and give the city's Bureau of Code Enforcement the authority to supervise licensed electrical contractors. The meeting will begin at 7:30 in Council Chambers at City Hall, 626 State St.

Council's vote would come on the heels of a Dec. 7, 2000, Commonwealth Court ruling that stripped the board of its regulatory power over electricians who work in Erie.

The court said the board only has advisory powers.

The city had considered whether to keep the board as an advisory panel, said Deputy City Solicitor Gerald Villella. But the administration decided against an advisory board because a city employee, electrical inspector Steve Giewont, can handle the day-to-day oversight of the electrical work and the qualifications of electricians, Villella said.

Council President Mario Bagnoni said he believes council will approve dissolving the board.

Bagnoni said council has little choice in the wake of the court's ruling. Council would take a final vote March 21.

Council formed the seven-member board in 1973 to oversee the licensing of electricians and to handle disciplinary action.

Commonwealth Court found that City Council overstepped its bounds in granting administrative authority to the board. The court said those powers belong to the mayor or a city department designated by the mayor.

The city's ordinance requires a licensed electrician to do all electrical work. The city has about 975 licensed electricians, ranging from master electricians to apprentices.

The court's ruling also affects the seven-member Stationary Steam Engineers Board of License Examiners.

But the city will keep that board in its advisory capacity, Villella said. "They're helpful in advising the licensing officer how to make the decisions because she's not a person in that trade,'' he said. Charlene Markiewicz, coordinator of city services, oversees the licensing.

The board advises Markiewicz whether any industry or company needs to hire a boiler operator. For safety reasons, a city ordinance requires an operator for any steam boiler with 60 horsepower or more.

Council also will vote on whether to oppose passage of state House Bill 595, which Bagnoni said would require cities to fluoridate their water supplies.

City Council has voted down fluoridation several times before.

Bagnoni called fluoride "rat poison,'' adding that it would cost about $250,000 for the Erie City Water Authority to install the equipment. "The water bills are high enough. We don't need them raised any higher,'' he said.

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association call water fluoridation an inexpensive, safe way of strengthening teeth and reducing tooth decay, particularly in children.

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

January 29, 2001

Simple stratagies, not tracking numbers, produce healthier diet

Berkeley Wellness Letter editors

... Drink tea. It contains enough fluoride to help prevent tooth decay and is also rich in polyphenols, which act like antioxidants...

October 17, 2000

Associated Press writer

SAN ANTONIO -- Paul Wiegand guides his dental mirror around the tiny mouth of 4-year-old Matthew Wetesnik. He counts eight cavities -- two so deep they will need root canals.

Leaning over the anesthetized boy, Wiegand repeats the plea of health officials and dentists in the nation's eighth-largest city: Put fluoride in city water and children will suffer fewer rotted teeth.

On Nov. 7, voters will reply. The question of whether to fluoridate the water is on the ballot in San Antonio as well as Abilene; Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas; Spokane, Wash.; Leavenworth, Kan.; Brattleboro, Vt.; Gilbert, Ariz.; Utah's Salt Lake and Davis counties; and the Utah cities of Logan, Providence, Nibley, Hyrum and Smithfield.

For decades, public health officials have promoted fluoridation as a cheap, easy way to prevent tooth decay. San Antonio Water System officials estimate fluoridation would cost an average of 12 cents a month per household.

But trying to get fluoride in the water has ignited controversy since 1945, when Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first U.S. city to add the cavity-fighting mineral.

The current efforts are the third in San Antonio and Spokane. Cumberland, Md., residents ousted a mayor who briefly fluoridated their water in 1990. This year they voted to allow it.

Roughly 56 percent of Americans were drinking fluoridated water in 1992, the most recent federal estimate. Since then, big cities including Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif., have added the chemical.

During the Cold War, some opponents feared fluoridation was a communist plot. Today, they often argue fluoridation is mass medication from an intrusive, costly government.

At a recent forum on the Brattleboro measure, Selectman Daryl Pillsbury told the crowd, "I live in Vermont for a very good reason: clean air, clean water, clean everything."

Pillsbury's children get topical fluoride treatments at school, he said. He dislikes the idea of adding something to community water that not everyone wants or needs.

"I'm leaning toward no," Pillsbury said to shouts and applause from a divided audience.

Opponents across the country cite studies suggesting fluoride causes such ailments as brittle bones and cancer. National health experts say such claims are groundless. The American Dental Association, American Medical Association, World Health Organization and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorse fluoridation. The CDC ranks it among the 20th century's top 10 public health achievements.

A comprehensive review of fluoridation research published this month in the British Medical Journal found no evidence of harm. While it linked fluoride to white spots on teeth, a cosmetic condition, the report found that fluoridation cuts tooth decay about 15 percent.

Support from health experts doesn't sway longtime fluoride foes like Kay Turner, 53, a San Antonio small-business owner.

"I'm very, very concerned about the long-term effects of ingesting this toxic substance," Turner said. "Fluoride will be just like tobacco, asbestos, lead, DDT, benzene. Remember when those were safe?"

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Last modified: 20 September 2001