BALLOT INITIATIVES: Water Fluoridation On Ballots
With seven days to go before election day, California Healthline will take a look this week at a few health care-related ballot initiatives in some states, counties and cities. Today, we look at the decision -- already tackled in many areas of the country -- of whether or not to fluoridate water supplies. Public health measures to add fluoride to water are under consideration in Abilene and San Antonio, Texas; Brattleboro, Vt.; Clark County, Nev. (which includes Las Vegas); Leavenworth, Kan.; Salt Lake and Davis Counties, Utah; Spokane, Wash.; and the towns of Hyrum, Logan, Nibley, Providence and Smithfield, Utah. Public health officials promote water fluoridation -- which 56% of Americans already have -- "as a cheap, easy way to prevent tooth decay." The practice is endorsed by the American Dental Association, the AMA, the WHO and the CDC (Koidin, AP/San Francisco Examiner, 10/16). A study conducted in 1980 by the Seattle King County Health Department and the University of Washington School of Dentistry discovered "a 49% reduction in tooth decay thanks to fluoride in the water," according to a report in the
Spokane Spokesman-Review. Michael Easley of the National Center for Fluoridation Policy and Research said the cost of fluoridation is "about 50 cents per person each year" (de Leon, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 10/22). The San Antonio Express-News reports that the Texas Department of Health recently found that San Antonio's Bexar County "would save about $1 million a year in Medicaid dental costs if it fluoridated its drinking water" (Castillo, San Antonio Express-News, 10/18).
So why are these areas just now getting around to adding fluoride to the water supply? The support of public health organizations is not a universal seal of approval -- many people are opposed to putting fluoride in the water supply. Opponents claim fluoride "causes such ailments as brittle bones and cancer," a charge public health officials deny. Others see it as "mass medication from an intrusive, costly government," and during the Cold War, many opponents "feared fluoridation was a communist plot." Fears still persist in many areas. San Antonio resident Kay Turner, plans to vote against the measure in her city. "I'm very, very concerned about the long-term effects of ingesting this toxic substance. Fluoride will be just like tobacco, asbestos, lead, DDT, benzene. Remember when those were safe?" she asked (AP/San Francisco Examiner, 10/16). Stay tuned to California Healthline after the election to see the results of ballot measures on fluoride.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.