Athens Water Fluoridation Controversy Stays Afloat

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The controversy regarding water fluoridation is not a new one in Athens and residents continue to speak out against the addition of fluoride to city water systems.

Law Director Patrick Lang issued a statement to city council Monday night stating that water fluoridation is required in Ohio, and that city council does not have the power to stop the process.

"Just to make it clear… the State of Ohio absolutely requires the fluoridation of public water systems," Lang said.

Effective in the early 1970s, the Ohio Revised Code requires all cities supplying water to a population of 5,000 or more people to "maintain fluoride content of not less than eight-tenths milligrams per liter of water".

Until 1997, Athens opted out of water fluoridation, issuing a referendum within 240 days of the law's passage, which allowed Athens and 29 other cities to be exempt from the law.

Lang stated that Ohio law no longer allows cities to override fluoridation mandates. "It has been pointed out before, correctly by certain members of the public, that there was a time when Ohio law provided that municipalities could opt out of this requirement," Lang said. "That was true. It is no longer the case."

Athens reversed the referendum decision in 1997 and has been adding fluoride to the water system since 2002.

However, a public forum held in 2009 re-ignited debates.

Athens resident Abe Alassaf argues against water fluoridation, claiming that Ohio cities should not give the Environmental Protection Agency so much power.

"If the citizens don't want it, how can we let a bunch of unelected bureaucrats tell us what to do, which is what the EPA is?" Alassaf asked.

Mayor Paul Wiehl is not sure if Athens can reverse the decision. "Maybe in the future it might be removed, but I haven't seen enough evidence and there's not enough thrust out there to do it," Wiehl said.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, 23 cities in Ohio maintain water fluoridation exemption.

North of Athens, the city of Lancaster remains exempt.