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The Shippensburg Borough Authority will ask medical professionals in the water service area if they think the water plant should continue to fluoridate water or stop.

Members discussed the pros and cons of stopping fluoridation Tuesday. The issue came up because the federal government lowered fluoride guidelines in 2011.

When Water Foreman Louis Larson considered changing the level, he decided to ask the authority board for an opinion on stopping fluoridation altogether, because either reducing or eliminating the chemical would require a change to the permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Communities in the U.S. began adding fluoride to public water supplies in the 1950s, according to the American Dental Association's website at www.ada.org, which also cites the Centers for Disease Control as calling fluoridation "one of the top ten great public health achievements of the 20th century."

Fluoride prevents tooth decay, but opponents argue that it can harm human health.

Dangerous to handle

Larson provided a memo to the authority board that mentioned cost savings but did not provide estimates of how much.

He included this quote: "The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) supports local decision making on the issue of fluoridation. It is not DEP's intent or position to encourage or discourage fluoridation."

Larson said fluoride stains equipment, pits floors, is dangerous when it leaks, damages glass in doors at well facilities and more.

"Instrumentation is chalky. It's nasty stuff," Larson said. "It's a hazardous chemical. It's dangerous to handle and it's destructive."

Larson recommended discontinuing fluoridation if the board was willing.

Health questions

Board members discussed the possibilities, including concerns about the medical benefits and disadvantages as well as the cost savings from having fewer chemicals to purchase, less instrumentation and less damage to facilities.

Board member Mike Pimental, who is the newest member of the board, asked, "Does it still remain a useful health benefit to the community?"

Earl Parshall, authority secretary and borough manager, said there are thousands of opinions on the Internet about fluoridation, but they are mostly either strongly supportive or strongly opposed.

Pimental suggested the board ask local pediatricians and dentists what their opinions were "rather than find out we've made a mistake in their eyes."

Board member Dennis Fleagle said that although he was in favor of dropping fluoridation, he thought the board should make a decision based on medical information, "not so much on what it's doing in our plant."

Board member Jack Sease also endorsed the idea of sending a letter seeking opinion.

Gino Torri, the fifth member of the board, had an excused absence from the meeting.

Chairman Keith Swartz asked Parshall to send out letters requesting opinions on fluoridation before the next meeting, which will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, in the Shippensburg Borough Building.

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