SALEM — A bill requiring fluoride treatment in all drinking water systems that serve more than 10,000 people passed by a unanimous vote Wednesday in the House Water Committee.
Even if the Legislature OKs the bill, there’s a catch.
Because the legislation does not provide funding to purchase and install treatment equipment, and prohibits suppliers from assessing taxpayers to cover those costs, local governments don’t have to comply.
Still, supporters of House Bill 2025 — among them the committee’s chairman — were pleased with the progress. “I think it’s important for the state to put this out as good public policy,” said Rep. Bob Jenson, a Pendleton Republican.
The bill gives the option to future legislatures to come up with the dollars, added Jenson.
Currently, only about 20 percent of Oregon residents drink fluoridated water, which has been shown to reduce tooth decay, particularly in children.
Medford and surrounding communities served by the city’s water supply, Ashland, Portland, Eugene, Gresham, Bend and Hillsboro are among the state’s larger communities that don’t fluoridate their water.
As originally introduced, the bill carried a state appropriation, but an amendment sponsored by Rep. Gordon Anderson, a Grants Pass Republican and a dentist, stripped that from the bill.
The main reason for that change was to keep it out of the cash-strapped Ways and Means Committee, where the bill almost certainly would have died. Anderson’s amendment also added the prohibition on assessing local users.
Handling what’s been a contentious issue for more than four decades, the committee had to balance the testimony of anti-fluoride activist and supporters who see it as a health issue.
Opponents argue that fluoride is a toxic substance that poses a health threat. They also contend it amounts to practicing medicine without the consent of the patient. Some environmentalists worry about the effects of fluoride on fish and other aquatic life if it was spilled into streams.
Proponents argue that fluoridation is an excellent way to promote oral health, particularly for the poor.
“The agenda of fluoridation has not been set by the disease, but by unsubstantiated claims of those who oppose it,” said Portland’s Dr. April Love, who screens children from Head Start and also provides dental care working out of a Northwest Medical Team van.
The committee defeated two other amendments that would have significantly weakened the bill. Both were in effect local-option proposals, including a provision that would allow cites to opt out through a vote of the people.
But Jenson wasn’t buying that argument.
“If there had been a vote in Oxford, Miss., to deny the right of James Meredith under the Civil Rights Act to attend the University of Mississippi, it would have passed with a near- unanimous margin,” he said.
“I don’t use this example lightly. There are times when the state’s interests should supersede the local jurisdictions.”
Jane Myers, legislative director for the Oregon Dental Association, predicted the bill would pass the House with a bipartisan vote.
And the issue that will sway members is the savings in health-care costs to the state, particularly under the Oregon Health Plan, Myers added.
Don Jepsen is a free-lance writer living in Salem.