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West Manchester water supplier aims to remove fluoride; township officials say they can't stop it

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Shiloh Water Authority has proposed removing fluoride from its water, which is distributed to more than half of West Manchester Township's residents. Township officials oppose the move.

A West Manchester Township water authority aims to remove fluoride from the drinking water, and township officials say there's nothing they can do to stop it.

Shiloh Water Authority submitted an application to the state Department of Environmental Protection in November requesting that it be allowed to stop adding fluoride to its water.

The authority provides water to more than half of the township's population. 

"We should not be putting chemicals in the water," said Lee Woodmansee, treasurer for Shiloh Water Authority's board. "Why should we add anything that we don't have to?" 

If Shiloh's application is approved, fluoridation could be stopped within 30 days. 

Kelly Kelch, the township's manager, said members of the township's board of supervisors oppose the authority's proposal. But supervisors do not have jurisdiction to overrule the authority's board. 

"The township is a spectator in this just like everyone else is," Kelch said. 

The township's board of supervisors appoints members to the authority's board, but it has no jurisdiction over the water supplier's decision, under state law. The authority is considered a municipal agency, answerable solely to state regulators. 

Shiloh Water System in West Manchester Township, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Woodmansee, along with four other board members, voted unanimously last year to submit a request to DEP. 

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Woodmansee said the board acknowledges there are dental health benefits that fluoride provides. Its decision was based solely on not wanting "foreign substances" in its water that aren't required by law.

"It has nothing to do with if fluoride is good or bad," Woodmansee said. "We should not be putting chemicals in the water."

Shiloh Water Authority first began putting fluoride in its drinking water — like most municipalities across the United States — in the 1960s to prevent tooth decay. 

The Centers for Disease Control has called fluoridation one of the most significant public health initiatives in the country's history. 

In 2015, the federal government lowered the recommended amount of fluoride in drinking water to less than 0.7 milligrams per liter, according to Newsweek.

York Water Co. doesn't fluoridate its water supply, except for in West Manheim Township.

Kelch said that while the township believes fluoride should remain in the drinking water, supervisors believe more research and investigation needs to be conducted by Shiloh Water Authority. 

"We expressed our position, and we'll watch the process play out," Kelch said. "We believe the correct decision is that there needs to be more investigation and research put into his process before making a decision."

The DEP had yet to approve or deny Shiloh Water Authority's application as of Tuesday, Jan. 21. It's unclear when the state department will take a vote.

The state DEP has no official stance on fluoride, spokesman John Repetz said. 

"It’s not the department’s intent or position to encourage or discourage fluoridation," a statement reads. "DEP’s role is to review proposals for the addition or removal of fluoridation treatment through the permitting process and ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and regulations."

West Manchester Township and Shiloh Water Authority officials will meet on Wednesday, Jan. 29, to discuss how they will move forward. 

The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the township municipal building, located at 380 East Berlin Road.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.