CARSON CITY — Although it died in the wake of harsh public criticism two years ago, a bill to put fluoride in public water systems serving Southern Nevada’s larger cities scooted through the Senate Wednesday afternoon with only a handful of members opposing it.
The bill, passed by the Assembly earlier this month, calls for adding fluoride to public water systems in cities of 100,000 residents or more except in Washoe County, which was exempted from the bill in an amendment passed Tuesday.
Sen. Randolph Townsend, a Washoe Republican who called for the exemption, was one of the six who voted against the overall measure Wednesday. Fifteen senators were in favor of it.
“This was not a Washoe issue. It was brought about by Southern Nevada individuals,” Townsend said, explaining his reason for the exemption. “But I’m still voting against the bill. All the studies are a result of a different kind of fluoride than the one they want to put in the water and that scares me to death.”
Critics of fluoridation have said they fear it can cause everything from cancer to bone weakness to reduced intelligence in children.
That’s a fear based on poor information and inconclusive scientific studies, Sen. Raymond Rawson, a Las Vegas Republican and dentist, said. He cited figures showing that 70 percent of Nevada first graders have decay in their baby teeth, and 50 percent have the beginnings of decay in their permanent ones.
Many of these children come from lower-income families who cannot afford proper dental care, Rawson said. This bill is designed to help them.
“This is one of those issues where there is a lot of information and unfortunately a lot of it is erroneous. If we successfully pass this bill, Nevada will have a healthier population,” the senator said.
Speaking before the Senate’s floor session Wednesday, Townsend said using poor children as an excuse is a poor way to win.
“If we have a low-income dental care problem, then let’s get a program for low-income dental care,” Townsend said.
Joining Townsend in voting against the bill were senators Lawrence Jacobson, R-Minden, Bernice Mathews, D-Sparks, Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, Ann O’Connell, R-Las Vegas and Maurice Washington, R-Sparks.
A similar measure was proposed in 1997, but died in committee because of emphatic opposition from residents who considered fluoride a poison.
The amended version of the bill now heads back to the Assembly for final approval.