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Johnstown water supply sparks controversy

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:20 p.m.

A new water supply in the Ligonier Valley has outraged some residents because it is fluoridated.

Last Saturday, Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County customers in Ligonier and Laurel Mountain boroughs and parts of Ligonier Township were switched to water purchased from the Greater Johnstown Municipal Authority. A 14-mile pipeline was recently completed to pump water over Laurel Summit.

“One of the most basic concerns I have is: fluoridating the water is using the water supply to administer a drug to treat a disease (of tooth decay),” Ligonier resident Charles Gallo said. “The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County does not have a license to practice medicine, but that's exactly what they're doing. They are using the water supply to medicate their customers.”

Authority Assistant Manager John Ashton acknowledged that fluoridated water is a controversial issue.

The authority doesn't fluoridate its water, but Ashton said it was “cost prohibitive” to eliminate the fluoride from water coming from Johnstown.

“We expected to get phone calls about the water coming from Johnstown,” Ashton said. “But we get the same number of phone calls from dentists and others who want us to start fluoridating our water supplies.”

The American Dental Association has endorsed fluoridated water as “safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay,” according to an authority news release.

“When we don't have fluoride in the water, it's very hard to protect our patients from tooth decay,” said Dr. John Lundquist, a Ligonier dental surgeon. “The reduction of cavities can be directly correlated to fluoride in the water.”

According to a UNICEF study published in 1999, some scientists believe the harmful impact of fluoride outweighs the benefits of preventing cavities.

“Excessive fluoride intake leads to loss of calcium from the tooth matrix, aggravating cavity formation throughout life rather than remedying it, and so causing dental fluorosis. Severe, chronic and cumulative overexposure can cause the incurable crippling of skeletal fluorosis,” the study said.

Ligonier Township resident Don Rehm called fluoride “rat poison.”Although he is not an authority customer, he said visiting local businesses will increase his exposure.

“When I come to town to get a cup of coffee or get something to eat, do you think they're going to be using bottled water in everything? Of course not.” Rehm said. “It just bothers me when I see the health of people being jeopardized for the sake of big business profits.”

Gallo said he will install on his kitchen tap a reverse-osmosis system, which is one of the few water filters that eliminates fluoride.

He said he is researching homeopathic remedies to purge fluoride toxins from his body that he might absorb while bathing at home or drinking water in local homes or businesses that don't filter the water.

Gallo said he wished the authority had provided more information to residents about the effects of fluoride, potential harmful side effects and ways to eliminate fluoride from their own water supplies.

“They're really losing our trust and they're failing to live up to their mission statement to provide safe drinking water,” Gallo said. “I'm disappointed that full disclosure wasn't given to the residents.”

Westmoreland authority officials said buying Johnstown's excess water eliminated the need for an aging water treatment plant near Ligonier and will allow for expansion in the future.

Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or