Five Pierce County utility districts announced Friday they had sued to keep from having to put fluoride in public drinking water.
After hearing comments on the contentious issue, the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health on Oct. 2 unanimously voted to require utilities serving more than 5,000 people to fluoridate their water by Jan. 1, 2004, or face fines.
The resolution, designed to stem what officials called an epidemic of tooth decay, especially among the poor, will affect about 240,000 people in Lakewood, Puyallup, Bonney Lake, Sumner, Milton, Edgewood, Parkland and Spanaway.
About 300,000 people who live in Tacoma, University Place, Fircrest and the local military bases already receive fluoridated water.
But Parkland Light and Water Co., Fruitland Mutual Water Co., Summit Water Supply Co., Spanaway Water Co. and Mountain View-Edgewood Water Co., in a statement released Friday, contended they should not have to comply.
The utilities say the health board exceeded its legal authority by requiring water fluoridation, unconstitutionally singled out utilities serving 5,000 or more people and unlawfully shifted the responsibility for funding the program to a limited number of private, nonprofit water companies and other utilities.
Health board chairman Kevin Phelps said the decision to mandate fluoridation was made carefully and was supported by worldwide health organizations.
“We feel very, very confident that the court will uphold our legal authority to mandate health issues,” Phelps said. “The only way I could see the court not ruling for us is if they say that dental hygiene and tooth decay are not public health issues.”
Phelps said the health board met with attorneys and also sought outside legal advice to make sure it had the authority to mandate fluoridation.Utilities say local customers, not the health board, should decide the issue, but Phelps balked at that idea.
“Public health is not a popularity contest,” he said. “There’s a right and wrong answer when you’re trying to protect the public.”