Beatrice Board of Public Works officials are weighing options as they decide on whether to fluoridate the city’s water as mandated by state law or put it to the vote of the people.
The Nebraska Legislature passed LB245 that requires fluoride to be added to drinking water in cities and towns with population of more than 1,000 residents by June 1, 2010, Neil Niedfelt, BPW general manager and city administrator, reported to the board at its regular Wednesday meeting.
Those cities with enough natural-occurring fluoride wouldn’t have to add any.
Under state law, cities and towns would be able to opt out of the law if residents vote it down in an election or there is enough natural-occurring fluoride already in the water supply.
The BPW will need to either implement the fluoridation or ask the Beatrice City Council to prepare an ordinance to place it on the ballot in November for voters to decide on, Niedfelt said.
The goal of some state lawmakers is to reduce tooth decay. Medicaid dental programs cost as much as 50 percent less in fluoridated communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Fluoridation opponents say research shows fluoride has been linked to health problems and doesn’t necessarily prevent tooth decay.
“My personal feeling is that it should probably come to the people,” Don Vetrovsky, BPW Board chairman, said. “There’s enough controversy out there.”
Board member Bob Moran agreed and asked why the BPW would spend time doing a lot of research on the costs of fluoridating the city water until they know what the residents want.
It would be good for voters to know the cost because they will pay for it in their water bills, Niedfelt said.
There is some question about how much it will cost the BPW to fluoridate, especially if they will be required to provide fluoridated water to Koch Nitrogen, he said.
The BPW currently provides millions of gallons of water to the Beatrice plant, and if they have to fluoridate Koch’s water, the BPW would likely have begin injecting fluoridation at the well. Niedfelt said this would be more expensive than if the city were able to begin fluoridation in town.
However, BPW is trying to find out if they will be required to fluoridate Koch’s water, he said.
At the same time, he said Koch would actually prefer to not have fluoride added to its water because it creates problems with their plant production.
At the next BPW meeting on July 2, the board members will be presented with information on the costs, benefits and concerns with fluoridating water.
“I think there is a lot of opinions on whether or not to fluoridate,” Niedfelt said.
More than 942,000 people, most of Nebraska’s population, are served by 65 public water systems that add fluoride to water. Forty-one systems are naturally fluoridated.
But 64 Nebraska communities with more than 1,000 people, including Beatrice, don’t add fluoride or have enough naturally occurring fluoride.
Beatrice once fluoridated its water from April 17, 1950, to Nov. 23, 1954, as recommended by the Gage County Dental Association. Fluoridation stopped in 1954 after a petition was circulated in the community and the issue was placed one the ballot, according to an article in the Beatrice Daily Sun. Voters rejected fluoridation by a 2-to-1 margin. Beatrice voters also turned down fluoridation two or three more times following that.
Beatrice water has a natural fluoridation level of .25, but it is not enough to meet the recommended approval.