SALEM — A controversial bill that would pre-empt Ashland’s ban on fluoridating its water supply has reemerged after stalling earlier this legislative session.
State Sen. Alan Bates told his colleagues on a Joint Ways and Means subcommittee that he was troubled by Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson’s temporary, planned absence from the panel just so the bill could muster the votes needed to advance.
“It’s pretty obvious that the vote in this committee was preordained by moving members around, which tells you you’ve got a problem,” said Bates, D-Ashland.
Bates, a physician, went on to denounce the legislation as an “arrogant” affront to local option, based on inconclusive science.
We are doing the wrong thing,” Bates said. “There are all kinds of studies showing (water fluoridation) works; there are studies showing it doesn’t work.”
Supported by the American Dental Association, the legislation would require cities of more than 10,000 people to fluoridate their municipal water supplies once funds become available, whether from the state or private sector.
“It really is time for Oregon to join with the other 46 other states that fluoridate their water supplies,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Portland Democrat and professor emeritus of public health and preventive medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.
If passed, House Bill 3099 would trump an Ashland city ordinance, enacted in November 2006, forbidding fluoride or any other substance that would act as medication or a health supplement from being added to the city’s water supply.
“We are trying to open our libraries and get a fire station built,” said Ashland City Councilor Cate Hartzell. “The City Council should not have to be worrying about protecting our water supply from the state.”
Under a proposed amendment, the city would get a one-time chance to opt out by asking voters during the 2008 primary or general election whether or not to fluoridate.
Kate Jackson, the only city councilor to vote against the ordinance, has said that fluoridation is an “important social equity issue” that gives low-income children, who often go without dental care, healthier teeth.
Bates, however, said Thursday that the answer to healthier teeth is not fluoridation, but better access to dental care.
While proponents of fluoridation say it’s an inexpensive and harmless way to help prevent dental cavities, critics charge that fluoride””a industrial byproduct of phosphate fertilizer manufacturing”” can lead to significant health problems, including bone deterioration and cancers.
City Councilor Alice Hardesty said Ashlanders have spoken on the issue.
“I don’t understand why some legislators are so adamant about this,” Hardesty said. “If a community wants to fluoridate their water they can.”
She added that such august bodies as the National Research Council have begun to question the orthodoxy of water fluoridation.
“They were pro-fluoridation for years,” said Hardesty, a former government scientist. “Now, they are not so sure, taking a second look at it.”
Part of the National Academy of Sciences, the NRC suggested to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it should lower the levels it calls acceptable because the current standard of 4 parts per million posed health risks.
That 2006 NRC study led to a warning by the American Dental Association against using fluoridated water to mix infant formula, as formula made with fluoridated water contains up to 250 times more fluoride than mother’s milk.
State Rep. Peter Buckley, an ardent opponent of the bill, said when the bill stalled earlier this session that the proposal will likely not make it back to the House floor. The Ashland Democrat may be wrong, much to the chagrin of local opponents.
Chris Rizo covers the state Legislature for The Daily Tidings. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.