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Ebensburg rescinds vote to remove fluoride

Council says issue could be revisited at later date

Discussion about removing fluoride from Ebensburg Borough’s public water began Monday with a memory.

It was the memory of a local man, who once had a conversation with a prominent local dentist.

“He said, ‘If they ever decide to take the fluoride out of the water, please do all you can to stop them,'” the man remembered, remarking that he never thought that worry would become a reality.

On Monday, however, the removal was considered by Ebensburg Municipal Authority board members for a second time. The first time, they voted in favor of removal. This time, they rescinded that decision.

Last month, authority members voted to remove fluoride from their supply after, and later, Borough Manager Dan Penatzer said the decision was the direct result of changes in Johnstown. In July, Greater Johnstown Water Authority leaders chose to cease the addition of fluoride into their water. That decision was the result of several factors, including an aging feed system, which is used to add the mineral to the water, authority General Manager Michael Kerr said, explaining new equipment would be costly.

The borough has its own water supply and treatment plant, but it also purchases water from the Johnstown authority.

Out of the nearly 800,000 gallons used each day in the borough, a minimum of 60,000 are purchased from Johnstown, Penatzer said.

“Now, we got some water that has fluoride in it and some that doesn’t have fluoride,” he said. That disparity was a driving factor that prompted the agreed-upon change, Penatzer said.

Since the Ebensburg authority’s original decision, residents and dental professionals have spoken out in protest. The same was true Monday afternoon.

Helen M. Hawkey, Pennsylvania Coalition for Oral Health’s executive director, was among those to address authority members.

“Community fluoridation is safe and it’s effective,” she said, pointing out endorsements from numerous health organizations.

Hawkey also dispelled claims and studies that show fluoride can be harmful to health. Often, those studies are conducted in areas where fluoride in water far exceeds the recommended amount, she said.

“Too much of anything is not a good thing,” Hawkey said, presenting a scenario in which she drank five pots of coffee a day. “I would die.”

Local dentist Nicole Falchini Oravec said she treats children from numerous Cambria County communities. Among them, she can notice a difference.

“The kids who drink Ebensburg water have better teeth,” she said. “You see a big difference in their enamel.”

Fluoride in water, she said, is also a useful tool in treating children whose parents do not have the money or motivation to purchase fluoride supplements.

Falchini said she was “sick” when she heard the news that fluoride would be removed from Johnstown’s water.

“I know we are the only place in the area that does it,” she said of Ebensburg’s fluoride. “We are right. … I’ll make more money if you take it out of the water.”

Retired dentist Robert Callahan, who has offered medical assistance in several area school districts, agreed with his fellow medical professionals.

“It’d be like taking a stand against vaccinating against smallpox,” he said.

Dentist Philip Woo was the only medical professional to appear on the meeting’s agenda. His opinion was the same as his colleagues’, but he ended his comments with a request.

“Please reconsider,” he said.

Board members in attendance, including Chairman Gerry McMullen, agreed to rescind their earlier vote but said the issue likely will be revisited at a later date. They assured those in attendance that they would be notified before a new decision is made.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.

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