TOPEKA, Kan. – Don’t tell Joe Walker that fluoridated water is safe to drink and prevents tooth decay.
The Wichita resident hasn’t believed either argument for 40 years, and he came to the Statehouse on Tuesday to urge a Senate committee to kill a bill requiring Kansas’ largest communities to fluoridate their water. Most already do.
Joining Walker were a retired University of Kansas chemistry professor and a Wichita psychologist who said he has spent thousands of hours researching fluoridation. Other opponents include the city of Wichita and the League of Kansas Municipalities, both wary of state encroachment in local governments’ affairs.
The bill before the Public Health and Welfare Committee – which heard only from opponents Tuesday – would require public water supply systems with 10,000 or more service connections to fluoridate their water starting in June 2005.
According to the league, the measure would apply to systems in seven cities – Hutchinson, Lawrence, Kansas City, Olathe, Salina, Topeka and Wichita – and Johnson County Water District No. 1, which serves most of the county outside Olathe.
Of those, only Hutchinson and Wichita do not fluoridate their water already.
Walker noted that Wichita voters rejected fluoridation in 1978, and bills to mandate fluoridation failed in the Legislature four times from 1970 through 1996.
“It is totally absurd to even consider it,” Walker said.
But public health advocates and the Kansas Dental Association contend it is absurd for Kansans to oppose fluoridation. After Tuesday’s hearing, they said thousands of studies indicate that fluoridated water is safe and helps prevent tooth decay.
“This is an idea that’s 60 years overdue in Kansas,” said Sally Finney, lobbyist for the Kansas Public Health Association.
Supporters of the bill were scheduled to testify Wednesday. Committee Chairman Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said she was uncertain when the panel will act on the measure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 66 percent of all Americans use fluoridated water. The CDC’s figure for Kansas is less than 63 percent, ranking it 32nd. Eleven states, including Nebraska, have a fluoridation mandate, though some exempt small or medium-sized communities.
Among the critics testifying Tuesday was Wichita psychologist Robert Hetrick, who called fluoridation “mass medication” and said Kansans have the right to refuse such medical treatment.
Albert Burgstahler, a retired University of Kansas chemistry professor, said research suggests that ingesting fluoride can cause health problems, including mottled teeth and brittle bones in seniors. He said he was appalled that public health advocates and others have ignored such research.
“Fluoridation is not nature’s way,” he said.