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Shiloh Water Authority to reconsider fluoride removal plan

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

The Shiloh Water Authority board is expected in late February to reconsider its push to remove fluoride from West Manchester Township residents' drinking water, officials said Thursday. 

The authority's board first approved the plan in February 2019. Its move has raised the ire of the township's board of supervisors.

The  board's decision to reconsider the issue, scheduled for Feb. 26, came after negotiations with local supervisors and discussions with officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Jim Bentzel, the chairman of Shiloh's board.

Chairman Jim Bentzel, of Shiloh Water Authority speaks during a special meeting with West Manchester Township Board of Supervisors in West Manchester Township, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. The authority submitted an application to the Department of Environmental Protection in November requesting permission to discontinue adding fluoride to water. Dawn J. Sagert photo

There will be a public hearing prior to the vote to reconsider Shiloh's fluoride policy, officials said. That meeting hasn't been scheduled, but it will occur in the days prior to the authority board's vote. 

"We're just glad that they're allowing for public comment before they make an important decision like this that affects all of their customers," said Kelly Kelch, West Manchester Township's manager. 

On Wednesday night, Jan. 29,  the authority's board and township supervisors convened a joint meeting to discuss the controversy.

Supervisors criticized the authority's process, highlighting what they labeled a lack of transparency.

Steven Harlacher, of West Manchester Township Board of Supervisors, during a special meeting with Shiloh Water Authority at the West Manchester Township Municipal Building in West Manchester Township, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"The initial concern from us was that a decision was made in February to discontinue the fluoride before the public was really aware of it," said Steve Harlacher, the chairman for the West Manchester Board of Supervisors. "Nobody really knew about it until later."

In February 2019, Shiloh's board voted to remove fluoride from the water system — which services about half of the township's population — before notifying customers. 

But Bentzel countered Wednesday night that last year's vote was merely to begin the process and that the authority board was not acting in secret. The authority board voted again in September to officially seek approval from state regulators. 

West Manchester Township Board of Supervisors board members Rosa G. Hickey, right, and  Steven Harlacher during a special meeting with Shiloh Water Authority at the West Manchester Township Municipal Building in West Manchester Township, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called fluoride one of the most successful public health initiatives in the country's history. Fluoride has been shown to prevent cavities and have an overall positive effect on dental health. 

Fluoride has been a common additive in American water systems for decades. 

"So do you think we were wrong for 50 years?" Harlacher asked. "What's different now?"

John Horvatinovic, of Shiloh Water Authority, speaks during a special meeting held by the board of supervisors  at the West Manchester Township Municipal Building in West Manchester Township, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. The authority submitted an application the Department of Environmental Protection in November requesting permission to discontinue adding fluoride to water. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Bentzel and other Shiloh Water members responded that an increase in education and awareness has contributed to more people questioning the benefits of fluoride. 

"You start looking, and you find all kinds of stuff," Bentzel said. "That's where a lot of the concerns are."

On Wednesday, officials from the two sides settled on meeting monthly and bolstering bilateral communication. 

 "We need to work together," Harlacher said. 

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