TRENTON – A bill that would mandate the fluoridation of the state’s water supply still faces questions as it awaits approval from the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
The bill was approved 10-0 by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee this week, but Assemblyman Vincent J. Polistina, R-Atlantic, abstained, saying he needed to research the issue further.
Fluoride is added to the water supply to prevent tooth decay. Ingesting fluoride through drinking water or taking it in pill form helps strengthen teeth.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., D-Burlington, Camden, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he wants to provide poor inner-city children with a health benefit they might not have access to otherwise.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, took issue with the bill but said adding fluoride to the water supply is “a worthy endeavor.”
“If you fluoridate your water, children’s tooth decay will be lower,” Van Drew, who also is a dentist, said. “You literally build a stronger tooth.”
But Van Drew said the cost of the bill, given the state’s finances, would be prohibitive. “The state of New Jersey right now can no way absorb another fiscal responsibility,” he said, adding that “when it comes to saying that we’re going to mandate it statewide for everyone, I just think that’s a little bit too much of big state government.”
Atlantic City already voluntarily fluoridates its water supply. But Neil Goldfine, executive director of the city’s Municipal Utilities Authority, said that choice was not for every town.
For municipalities that have large central water-treatment plants, such as Atlantic City, fluoridating water would be “fairly easy,” Goldfine said.
However, for municipalities that get their water primarily from wells, the difficulties and costs increase with each well. Some municipalities are served by multiple wells, and the costs of upgrading them would add up, Goldfine said.
“It’s almost the same cost to fluoridate each well as it is (for) one water-treatment plant,” Goldfine said. Many wells are unmanned; Goldfine said fluoride levels are monitored around the clock in Atlantic City’s plant.
Conaway said he would consult with the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority before implementing the bill.
A spokesman for New Jersey American Water, which serves a number of municipalities in the state, said the company is still evaluating the legislation.
Conaway cited the financial benefits of the bill, including reduced costs for the government in providing dental care and for families needing dental care. “The state government will save millions by enacting community fluoridation,” he said.
Given the benefits of fluoridation he saw, Conaway said it would take a lot to sway his support of the bill. He said: “The evidence is clear and it’s overwhelming.”