Council threatens Water Authority

September 19, 2002
By Kevin Flowers

Erie City Council took a stance against fluoridation Wednesday night - and threatened to disband the Erie City Water Authority if it doesn't drop its plans to add fluoride to the area's drinking water.

But City Council delayed action on another issue, postponing a decision on Mayor Rick Filippi's request for an appraisal of the former International Paper Co. pulp and paper mill.

Council voted 6-0 at its regular meeting to give preliminary approval to an ordinance that would prohibit the Water Authority from adding any chemicals, including fluoride, to the city's water supply unless they meet certain criteria.

That move came even though city and Water Authority lawyers have told council the authority is autonomous and can legally add fluoride to the water supply.

Before voting Wednesday night, three members of City Council, including President James N. Thompson, told the audience they would support disbanding the Water Authority, created by council in 1989. The Water Authority leases the metropolitan water system from the city.

Thompson, Murray and Councilman Mario Bagnoni all said they would not disband the authority so the city could run the water system again.

Instead, the three said a vote to disband would likely be immediately followed by a vote to reconstitute a new Water Authority with different board members. The board members are appointed by City Council.

"The city doesn't want the water system back, no, no,'' Murray said. "We would re-appoint a new board that would get back to the authority's mission, which is to run the water system. We want them to get out of the fluoride business.''

Bill Brown, the Water Authority's spokesman, said council has the legal right to disband the authority.

"They could do that, I guess, but if they wanted the water system back, they would have to assume all the debt that goes with it, though,'' Brown said.

Brown did not have exact figures, but he said that debt exceeds $50 million. Much of that debt is related to more than $70 million in water system improvements made since 1989.

Tina Mengine, Filippi's spokeswoman, said the Water Authority has been run "successfully, effectively and efficiently'' over the years. She also said the city has no desire to run the area's water system again.

"We do take whatever council says very seriously,'' Mengine said of threats to disband the authority.

Thompson said he is now convinced that most Erie citizens do not want fluoridation.

"We understand they have authority,'' Thompson said. "What we want is for them to start listening to the will of the people on this."

"Maybe if they don't listen, we'll do something,'' Thompson said. "We do still have the final trump card.''

It would take a majority vote of council to disband the Water Authority, but Filippi could veto it. According to the state's Third Class City Code, it would then take five votes to override a mayoral veto.

Councilman Mel Witherspoon was out of town and did not attend Wednesday night's meeting. Fluoridation could be discussed further at the Water Authority's regular monthly meeting today at 3 p.m. at its offices, 340 W. Bayfront Parkway.


SAFE DRINKING WATER PRODUCT QUALITY CONTROL ORDINANCE

A statement of the reasons for the enactment of the proposed ordinance as contemplated by our consideration is as follows:

Whereas, the public drinking water supply should be maintained for the safety and enjoyment of the entire Erie community at all ranges of consumption; and

Whereas, the Erie Water Authority has elected to add a substance to the public drinking water delivered to citizens of Erie for the purpose of fulfilling a health claim; and

Whereas, the United States Food and Drug Administration is the only government agency with the authority to approve or reject any claim of safety or effectiveness for any product that is intended to cure, mitigate, treat or prevent any disease in man or animal; and

Whereas, Pennsylvania public health goals and U.S. Maximum Contaminant Level Goals for water are established scientific endpoints for acutely toxic substances at which it has been determined that no known or anticipated adverse health effects will occur, with a margin of safety that is protective for an entire lifetime of ingestion; and

Whereas, Maximum Containment Levels for acutely toxic substances are regulatory endpoints at which the U.S. and the State of Pennsylvania, after consideration of public health goals, costs and benefits of treatment, and political determinations, have established water suppliers must remediate any excesses, and because of these other considerations may not be as protective as public health goals; and

Whereas, other cities adding substances to their public water systems for the purpose of fulfilling health claims have added chemicals that contain contaminants such as lead, arsenic, and mercury at levels that exceed public health goals and Maximum Contaminant Level Goals established for those contaminants by the State of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and

Whereas, although on June 7, 2000, the ordinance establishing the City of Erie Board of Health was repealed in favor of County jurisdiction, and the Bureau of Health and 8 Articles of regulation were either repealed or transferred to other municipal regulation, the City of Erie has maintained the authority to enact and enforce municipal ordinances under the Codified Ordinances of Erie, Part 11, Public Health Code, as evidenced by the continued application and enforcement of Article 1127 et seq., which institutes regulations to protect citizens in public places from adverse health exposures from smoking; Therefore,


Be it enacted by the City of Erie:

In order to ensure that the public water of Erie is safe to drink, it shall be unlawful and a public nuisance for any person, agent, or any public or private water system, to add any product, substance, or chemical to the public water for the purpose of treating or affecting the physical or mental functions of the body of any person, rather than to make water safe or potable such as in the use of chlorine, unless the substance meets the following criteria:

1) The substance must have been specifically approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety and effectiveness with a margin of safety that is protective against all adverse health and cosmetic effects at all ranges of unrestricted consumption.

2) The substance, at Maximum Use Levels, must contain no contaminants at concentrations that exceed Pennsylvania public health goals or U.S. Maximum Contaminant Level Goals, whichever if more protective.

If any provision of this act or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, that invalidity may not affect other provisions or applications of this act that can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable.