Water systems serving 5,000 or more people would be forced to fluoridate the water under a bill passed 57-25 Monday by the Arkansas House of Representatives, even if the people using those systems have voted against using fluoride.
House Bill 2627 by Rep. Tommy Roebuck, D-Arkadelphia, would pre-empt local ordinances on whether a city is required to add fluoride to local drinking water as a measure to prevent tooth decay.
Roebuck, a dentist, said his hometown of Arkadelphia uses fluoridated water, but that he can tell when his patients come from towns that don’t. “I’ve been a dentist for 41 years, and I’ve seen lots of kids,” Roebuck told the House in introducing the bill. “You can tell the difference by looking in their mouth whether they live in Arkadelphia or a mile outside.”
Roebuck told the House that the bill would reduce dental costs, saving the state Medicaid program $19 million annually.
Currently, a majority of Arkansas cities have fluoridated water, but some — including Fort Smith — do not. The Arkansas Department of Health has estimated that the bill would cost cities about $500,000. Roebuck’s bill says cities can raise funds for the startup in any way except taxing local ratepayers, taxpayers or bondholders in a local water supply.
The bill would require the cities to add seven-tenths of a milligram of fluoride per liter of water, following the rules of the state Department of Health.
Rep. Doug Matayo, R-Springdale, asked Roebuck if he thought it was right for the state to override the authority of cities. “Do you have any concerns over that?” Matayo asked. “From a local government standpoint, that we’re specifically overriding local authority?”
Roebuck said individuals who do not drink fluoridated water have higher dental costs, which mean more expenses for the state Medicaid program, a system of assistance for the poor that is financed with state and federal tax dollars. “Those cities that are not fluoridated now, the rest of us are paying the increased cost of health care for those,” Roebuck said referring to the expected Medicaid savings. “We’re talking about saving a lot of money. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a major issue.” The bill now goes to the Senate.