At one time, lead was thought to be a good additive to preserve paint.
But as children began to eat lead paint chips that flaked off window sills, they suffered severe medical ailments and lead eventually was recognized as causing major problems, especially in young children.
"New information comes about all of the time," said Dr. Anthony J. Cipolla, a local dentist who spoke briefly Wednesday at the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority, where he handed the board and staff literature on the potential public health risks associated with the authority continuing to add fluoride to the public water supply.
Dr. Anthony J. Cipolla, left, a local dentist, seeks the removal of fluoride from the Williamsport Municipal Water Authority’s water.
The authority, which serves 18,000 customers in Williamsport, South Williamsport and Loyalsock, Old Lycoming and Woodward townships, may not realize the harm of the acid additive, according to Cipolla, who also is chairman of the Williamsport Parking Authority, a veteran and a commissioned officer for the U.S. Public Health Service.
In response to Cipolla's introduction of the problem, William Nichols Sr., authority chairman, said the authority appreciated the information, but remains under a Lycoming County court order to put fluoride in the water.
In addition, Nichols added, the state Department of Environmental Protection has it "built into the authority permit."
The system of adding fluoride was challenged in the late 1960s, according to information shared at the meeting. Several members of City Council then were on the anti-fluoridation side and took the matter to court, but a judge issued an injunction and ruled the city was not permitted to defluoridate.
Even so, former Councilman Toselle F. "Tony" Meconi continued to fight, unsuccessfully, for the removal of fluoride from the city water supply until his death July 18, 2003, at age 93.
Two years after Meconi's death, in 2005, Harvard University reportedly decided to probe the cancer risk associated with fluoridated tap water.
"We need evidence," Nichols said Wednesday, adding that the amount of fluoride in the city water supply is on the lower end of the scale, compared to other cities. Public hearings would need to be scheduled before any changes were to take place.
Meanwhile, Douglas Keith, authority executive director, also wondered why no other organizations have requested the authority to defluoridate and the authority asked Cipolla to provide a letter of request from other dentists in the region showing their opposition and reasons.
Cipolla said that could be done and he believed it to be a matter of whether the "powers-to-be" decide to review the evidence of epidemiological studies showing its harmful effects and begin to consider the next step.
Cipolla claimed it was his "responsibility" to sound the alert that the practice is essentially mass medicating children, while potentially harming the health of those exposed to the additive that for years has been widely promoted as preventing tooth decay.
Cipolla, who said he grew up as a staunch fluoride supporter, even using fluoride drops on infants, noted recent medical studies reveal it is no longer recommended for infants, who may develop brain disorders by taking it.
"My belief was that fluoride was a nutrient," Cipolla stated. "In re-examining that, I have learned that it is not a nutrient and, in fact, is more toxic than lead."
Fluoride works topically and is in most every kind of toothpaste, according to Cipolla. It also is sprayed on fruit, such as grapes, to prevent spoilage, he said.
Most recently, the city leaders of Seattle, Wash., stopped it from being added to city water supplies. Closer to home and in much smaller cities, such as Tyrone and Pottsville, leaders voted it out of their supplies, Cipolla said.
"We got it wrong," Cipolla said of the dental community's earlier assumptions.
"We now know we are over-medicating our children and, in some cases, harming adults by adding a chemical that can lead to arthritis," he said. "New information comes out all of the time."