Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon has not decided whether the county will sue a small water company for failing to add fluoride as required by public health rules. He wants to consult others before he acts on the request from the Salt Lake Valley Board of Health.
“It’s an issue of fairness,” Corroon told the Deseret Morning News.
He said he doesn’t plan to look at whether water should be fluoridated, but rather whether it’s fair to other water companies that obey the law to let this company refuse.
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” he said. “I want to speak to some council members first.”
He said he expects to decide shortly.
The public health board unanimously passed a resolution last week asking that legal action be taken to force Holliday Water Co. to comply with the fluoridation health regulation. Salt Lake County voters approved adding fluoride to drinking water in 2000 by a margin of 58 to 42 percent. The board, which directs public health policy in the county, subsequently created Regulation 33.
But an attorney for Holliday Water Co. said the shareholders don’t believe they should be subject to the fluoridation rules and the company will fight any effort to force compliance, although it has the equipment in place in its treatment plant.
“It’s a question of self-determination,” said Paul H. Ashton, attorney for Holliday Water Co., a mutual water system that serves about 14,000 customer/shareholders on the east bench of the county.
No, it’s a question of upholding the law, counters David Wilde, county council member who serves on the board of health. “I think the health board tried to work with Holliday Water Co., and in fact almost bent over backwards. But there comes a point where you say you enforce the law or look the other way and pretend the law isn’t what it is. I don’t think we can do that.
“My personal feelings are neither here nor there. Voters voted for it.”
Regulation 33 gave all public water systems in the county until October 2003 to begin fluoridating drinking water. Some, including Holliday Water, got the extensions they asked for. The others are now in compliance, said county health spokeswoman Pam Davenport, who declined to comment further because there may be litigation.
Holliday Water and the Salt Lake Valley Health Department have been doing a complicated dance around the issue for several years — the steps documented in minutes from board of health meetings and in the resolution/letter sent to Corroon.
Before the department adopted a fluoride regulation, it says, Holliday Water and other affected water systems were invited to help craft the policy. The day before it was to take effect, Holliday Water requested a blanket exemption, which was denied a month later. After that, Holliday filed suit in state district court appealing the decision, then dismissed it as part of a settlement with the board.
In the beginning, Ashton and health department records agree, it was an issue of cost. They cut the cost of fluoridating the water by agreeing it could be added at the treatment plant and not to each spring.
The company received extra time to get equipment it needed, which it did. After that, the variance was extended 30 days at a time as Holliday said it was making progress toward implementation, the resolution says.
The variances expired in April 2005. In September, Ashton met with the board to explain why the company doesn’t plan to fluoridate the water, although the treatment plant is now equipped to do so.
The stockholders don’t believe they should be — and hope they won’t be — forced to do that, he said. It’s no longer about cost. And for the company, it is not about fluoride. There are shareholders who are passionate on both sides of the fluoride issue, Ashton said.
The company’s position is that it is a “functionally separate” water system entitled to choose whether to fluoridate or not, Ashton said.
Salt Lake County, however, disagrees.
The water system in White City was deemed exempt from the health regulation. The county views Holliday Water differently because it is not completely unconnected to other water systems. It gives Salt Lake City some water in exchange for the city treating some of its water and returning it.
Rebecca Arrowood, one of the shareholder/customers of Holliday Water, voted for fluoridation in 2000 and has been waiting for it to be added to the water — something that, until recently, she was told would happen. The vote by shareholders against fluoridation, she said, took place before the water company had spent a quarter-million dollars on water treatment equipment. She doesn’t believe the vote reflects current sentiment.
Many of her neighbors believed fluoride was being added to their water by now, she said, noting some parents of small children are dismayed — and confused about whether they should give their children fluoride supplements.
Both the board of health and the water company say they’ve been trying to “reach peace” for years. They just disagree on what peace looks like.