Despite a Louisiana law passed last year mandating fluoridation of public water systems, it’s not likely to happen in East Baton Rouge Parish in the near future, officials say.
As part of the law, the state is required to find money to pay for the equipment needed to switch over un-fluoridated water systems. For East Baton Rouge Parish’s two major water companies, the cost estimate is $8.5 million, according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
The author of the bill, state Sen. Willie Mount, said with the number of challenges facing the state budget this year, funding for the fluoridation efforts has not come up.
“I don’t know where we’d get the money,” said Mount, D-Lake Charles. “It’s not mandated in the sense if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money.”
The law, Act 761, mandates that public water systems with 5,000 or more connections that do not already have naturally occurring fluoride add it to reach a level between 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million. This is the range that dental associations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend for dental protection.
In addition, the law includes an option that any precincts served by a water system can petition and vote on whether they want to opt out of adding fluoride, Mount said.
The law requires that water systems that would need to comply with the fluoridation mandate come up with cost estimates. Those estimates, which give the amounts needed to comply with the law, were given to DHH earlier this year.
There are 26 water systems in the state that do not currently add fluoride to water. Of those, two systems, Baker and Pineville, have enough naturally occurring fluoride to not have anything added, according to DHH. Two other water systems — both in Livingston Parish — are still working on their cost estimates.
The estimate to add fluoridation to the state’s remaining water systems is $13.3 million. Outside East Baton Rouge Parish, the estimated costs to start fluoridating individual water systems ranges from $39,000 to $600,000.
The majority of the $13.3 million — about $8.5 million — comes from the two major water systems that serve East Baton Rouge Parish, the Baton Rouge Water Co. and the Parish Water Co.
The Baton Rouge Water Co. estimates that it will cost $4.6 million to comply with the law and its independent subsidiary, the Parish Water Co., estimates it will cost $3.8 million to do the same.
The companies share a water system so they would both have to be changed over at the same time, explained Hays D. Owen, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Baton Rouge Water Co.
“We can’t do one system without doing the other,” Owen said. The companies are privately held corporations and not affiliated with the city-parish other than to provide service.
The reason these two companies would cost so much more is because unlike New Orleans, which fluoridates its water, the Baton Rouge companies’ water comes from multiple wells, not one water treatment facility, Owen said.
“We have about 80 wells throughout East Baton Rouge Parish,” Owen said. “For us, it’s a much more expensive process.”
The $8.5 million is a little less than the annual capital budget the water systems use to dig new wells, enlarge water lines and other work, Owen said. However, the law is specific that the cost of installing the equipment for fluoridation will not be borne by the water systems, he said.
“The catch is the state has to pay for the capital investment and six months of chemicals,” Owen said. “Without them finding the money, it’s not going to happen.”