Health advocates rallied in the Capitol on Monday for a bill to require more fluoride in public drinking water, saying it would help low-income people avoid serious dental problems and save taxpayer money.
The rally was led by PAFluorideNOW, a new coalition of public health advocates who are backing a bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-Delaware. The bill would require water systems with at least 500 connections to have the recommended level of fluoride.
About half the state is served by water systems with the optimal level of fluoride, advocates say. All water has a small amount of fluoride because it occurs naturally, but not enough to satisfy backers of Barrar’s plan.
“We need to get people treatment before they have mass decay in their mouths,” said Robin Rohrbach of the Healthy York County Coalition, which has been pushing for higher fluoride levels for more than 13 years.
While the bill is also backed by groups such as the Pennsylvania Rural Health Association, fluoridated water is a controversial issue.
Some critics say it poses hidden dangers, such as the potential to cause bone disease, and they say mandating it would be an unwanted government intrusion.
Barrar’s bill won initial approval from the House Health and Human Services Committee last year, and it is now pending in the Appropriations Committee, where its fate is uncertain.
Committee spokeswoman Johnna Pro said lawmakers have varying opinions on the issue and she could not predict if Barrar’s bill will move.”It’s one of those issues that on the surface doesn’t appear controversial, but in fact it is,” Pro said.
Several public water systems in York County provide fluoridated water. York Water Co., which provides water for more than 150,000 county residents, does not.
The company will add it only to water in West Manheim Township when it takes over the township’s system later this year. The company said it will continue adding fluoride when it agreed last year to acquire the township system.
York Water Co. President Jeff Hines said he sees fluoride as a health policy matter that should be decided by elected officials, and the company would comply if the state mandates it. He also questioned why the debate centers on water and not other liquids.
“I guess my philosophical question is: Why put it in water and not something that gets ingested like milk, orange juice or soda?” Hinessaid.
While backers of Barrar’s bill admit it would cost more to add fluoride to water systems, they say it would save money over the long term by cutting Medicaid payments for the insured with acute dental problems.
Barrar cited estimates at least $38 would be saved for every dollar spent on fluoridating water.
ON THE WEB
A new coalition of public health advocates backing fluoridated water has a Web site at www.PAFluoride