Adding fluoride to water would be a state mandate for most public water utilities under a bill that an Arkansas House committee recommended Thursday.
Rep. Tommy Roebuck, DArkadelphia, a dentist for more than 40 years, sponsored House Bill 2627. It would require water systems that serve 5,000 or more residents to add fluoride to the water system.
A majority of the people in Arkansas on public water systems receive fluoridated water, but there are notable exceptions, such as Fort Smith.
Roebuck said Arkadelphia has had fluoridated water for 50 years. “All you have to do is look into the mouth of a child and you could see the difference,” he said.
Committee members said they’ve received many e-mail messages and calls regarding Roebuck’s bill. But no one spoke against it at Thursday’s meeting.
Sherry Johnston of Waldron, president of the Arkansas Health Freedom Coalition, said that’s because opponents were caught offguard by the speed with which the bill cleared the committee. Johnston’s group opposes fluoridation.
Johnston believes fluoride is a dangerous additive in water and that people should be able to decide whether to use it on their own. She said her group would fight the bill in the Senate if it passes the House.
Lynn Mouden, director of the Arkansas Department of Health’s Office of Oral Health, said about 62 percent of Arkansans on public water systems now receive fluoridated water.
The Health Department estimates that it will cost $500,000 to upgrade water systems that aren’t adding fluoride already. The legislation allows for start-up costs to be paid for by other sources such as corporations, foundations and charities. Only when funds are available will a community be required to upgrade its system.
Rep. Daryl Pace, R-Siloam Springs, said he’d been an adamant opponent of fluoridation for many years but voted for the bill because he said Roebuck was so persuasive.
Rep. Jim Medley, R-Fort Smith, said he doesn’t know whether fluoride is a good idea, but he said he had to vote against HB2627 because voters in Fort Smith have twice voted to reject fluoridation.