Fluoride was yet again the head of discussion at the Franklin General Authority meeting Tuesday as the group's members agreed to seek continued fluoridation services for the area's small children.

The conversation with interested community members, including retired dentist James Knarr and Child Development Centers executive director Rina Irwin, followed the authority's decision last month to terminate fluoridation services due to a fluoride leak into the city's water system in February.

Proponents of fluoride spoke Tuesday night of the chemical's dental benefits to children, both in the prenatal and formative years.

"Without the crisis (in February), I don't think you'd be considering getting rid of services. There is a wide public health implication of terminating something," said Knarr.

In a letter he presented to authority members, Knarr said that around 1975, he was one of the original speakers at a Franklin City Council meeting where he asked council members to institute fluoridation in the municipal water supply in order to decrease the issue of dental decay.

Not long after, the city approved fluoridation services, which were enacted until the incident in February when elevated levels of the acidic chemical were discovered in some residents' water in the Third Ward, Oak Hill and Rocky Grove areas.

Residents went without drinkable water for several weeks after city crews found that an equipment malfunction at Barrett Flats had allowed a surplus amount of fluoride into the system.

At their June meeting, authority members voted to terminate fluoridation services, reasoning that fluoride is only effective for children ages 4-11, with it having no apparent dental benefit for people outside that age range.

Some members had also stated that fluoride could be provided to children through other sources like toothpaste and mouthwash.

In speaking Tuesday, Irwin and Deanna Cook, an early intervention coordinator for Venango County, explained the need for fluoridated water for impoverished children who may not brush or use mouthwash.

Of the 1,000 children Child Development Centers serves, the majority are under the age of 5, and 70 percent are within 100 percent poverty, Irwin stated.

Irwin said her organization has been using Franklin's fluoridated water to prepare formula bottles for babies.

In her argument, Irwin cited a 4-year-old Franklin boy who attends one of the center's buildings who has no teeth. She then urged authority members to work with Child Development Centers to provide a solution.

Cook, who works with children from birth to age 3, said she is concerned for "the kids impacted by these decisions."

"In a lot of ways, I'm worried about these children. I think Franklin is going in the wrong direction," Cook said.

Authority chairwoman Anne Rudegeair responded to the comments, noting the controversy behind the fluoridation of municipal water.

Rudegeair said she is not "anti-fluoride," but said that if the issue is so controversial, it should be up to parents whether or not their children ingest fluoridated water.

"The bigger problem is it's our job to provide clean, safe drinking water, and in February, we failed," Rudegeair said.

She said she also takes issue with providing fluoridated water to residents who do not want it and wasting chemicals within the water supply when much of the water is not used for drinking purposes.

Rudegeair proposed working with Irwin, Cook and Knarr to find a way to provide fluoridated water to those in the population who need it.

"I believe kids need access, but that access - we need to find another way," she said.

Authority member Tim Dunkle also gave an update on the authority's after-action improvement plan that resulted from the fluoride incident.

The plan outlines 36 improvements in a review of 10 response areas in the city, which include investigation, public information, incident management and training.

Dunkle said he received a letter from the Department of Environmental Protection office in Meadville in reply to the improvement plan.

The DEP gave four suggestions but liked the plan overall, Dunkle said.

The authority is next scheduled to review the city's operation and maintenance plans for August.

"Everything on that plan is moving along as scheduled," Dunkle said.

Other business

In other action Tuesday, the authority awarded a $597,975 contract to Terra Works of Clarion for water line replacements along Park, Cedar and North Front streets in Rocky Grove and Elm and 12th streets in Franklin.

Water line replacement work should be complete next week on Spring and Orchard streets.

- Authority members approved the group's 2017 audit.

Revenues for the water and sewer operating funds were $2.4 million and $2.5 million, respectively. Expenses totaled around $3.4 million.

- Work has been completed on the $92,366 project to repair Davis Run Culvert, a 243-foot metal pipe that runs through the wastewater treatment plant from Elk Street to the Allegheny River.

Work involved repairs to the bottom of the culvert, where rock and debris have abraded the surface. The repairs should extend the life of the pipe for several decades.

- Authority members approved the use of funds not to exceed $8,000 for the purchase of three valves for the city and cemetery tanks located above the Elk Street extension and Oak Hill.

The city's four tanks are in the process of being repainted. Work on the cemetery tanks is expected to be finished by the end of the month, and the city tanks will be repainted between Aug. 6 and Nov. 1.

- The EADS Group of Clarion was approved to provide its engineering consultation services to determine the sources of inflow and infiltration of combined sewer overflow into the Chubb Run watershed area on 15th Street.

The issue is being caused by a manhole at 864 15th St. that experiences recurring sanitary sewer overflow.

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