Proponents of fluoridating water are appealing to voters’ sympathy for underprivileged children as well as their pocketbooks, although some Davis County officials are questioning whether the cost of fluoridation would be as low as proponents have estimated.
At a news conference with Salt Lake Valley board of health members, dentists and doctors Wednesday in Salt Lake City, proponents argued that not putting fluoride in the water hurts Utah’s uninsured children. Fluoridation is on the November ballot in Salt Lake and Davis counties.
About 100,000 children in Utah go without regular health care, said Utahns for Better Dental Health member Julie Valentine. Those children can’t get fluoride any other way, and the cost of treating them comes from taxpayers.
“They have no choice. Unless we have water fluoridation, they have no choice,” she said.
One of opponents’ main arguments against fluoridating public water supplies in Salt Lake and Davis counties is that it would infringe on their rights, forcing them to drink a substance they don’t want unless they get expensive filters to remove it from their water.
Dr. Wayne Cottam, dental director for Community Health Centers, says his center turns away 10 to 15 uninsured patients each day who need emergency dental care. The answer is not to build more clinics but to stop the problem before it starts, he says.
“At what point are we responsible for those who can’t help themselves?” asked Dr. Anthony Tidwell of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.
The low cost of fluoridating the public water supply in Davis County â€” one of proponents’ main selling points â€” has recently come under question by some county and city officials.
The board of health recommends fluoridation on the basis that $2 a year, at most, would be tacked on to residents’ water bills and that the benefits in terms of savings on dental bills would far surpass the cost.
While the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District estimates that the cost of fluoridating water would be $1.93 per person per year and an independent water engineer placed an estimate at even lower than that, a recent analysis by Centerville city’s water department came up with a much higher number of $30.81 per hookup, or household, per year.
The reason is that residents rely on Weber Basin for only about a quarter of their water, the rest coming from nine wells within the city, says Centerville Finance Director Blaine Lutz.
“We have so many wells. With each well site, we would have to go in and put fluoridation systems on there,” he said.
The situation may be the same in a number of other Davis cities. County clerk/auditor Steve Rawlings says North Salt Lake and Bountiful are currently undergoing evaluations as well, and two commissioners have asked him to find out the costs for the rest of the county.
Scott Paxman with Weber Basin says he took into account every well within the county when coming up with the cost of $2 per person per year.
“I can’t believe (the higher estimate is) true. They threw in a couple of trucks and hiring another person,” which would be unnecessary, he said.
Davis County Health Board Chairwoman Beth Beck says Centerville’s water department is anti-fluoride and inflates its figures.
“They put everything in there but the kitchen sink,” she said. “It is so minimal . . . if that ($30 estimate) is true, that would be the most expensive thing in the whole country.”
Proponents on Wednesday also addressed recent criticism that they refuse to debate their opponents. This Saturday, opponents are flying in a chemistry professor from New York to argue the harmful effects of the substance.
Utah Citizens Committee Against Fluoridation chairman Clinton Miller has paid for Dr. Paul Connett of St. Lawrence University to stage debates at the Salt Lake City Public Library and Woods Cross High School auditorium.
It is unlikely that any of the two dozen fluoride advocates Miller invited to participate in the debates will show up. Several have already declined by letter or phone.
Fluoride proponents say the studies cited by opponents are based on flawed data and should be kept out of the spotlight.
“Every time we get on stage, (opponents) get a chance of propagandizing anything they want,” Tidwell said.
During the next seven weeks, proponents will invite the public to three forums hosted by the League of Women Voters, the Parent Teacher Association and Primary Children’s Medical Center. Dates have not been announced.