Salt Lake Valley residents will take their first sips of fluoridated water Wednesday, nearly three years after voters overwhelmingly approved fluoridation.
Only three small water systems will not meet the Oct. 1 deadline, which means about 95 percent of the Valley’s homes and businesses will have fluoridated water flowing from the taps, said Royal DeLegge, director of environmental health for the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.
“With our going on line in Salt Lake County . . . Utah goes from [fluoridating] 2 percent of its population to well over 50 percent. It takes us from dead last to the middle of the pack,” said DeLegge. “Utah will no longer be recognized by the dental profession as a place where dental caries run rampant.”
Opponents of fluoride say Wednesday is a day that Utah will regret.
Where proponents contend water fluoridation is the most efficient, economical way to prevent dental decay, opponents link fluoride to a host of medical problems, and say it should be a matter of personal choice.
Tom Breitling of Salt Lake City said he’s also concerned about the effect on the aquifer of millions of pounds of fluoride that will be dumped into the soil in the coming decades. “It’s so much neater to get your fluorides from professionals like dentists and druggists,” Breitling said.
Water systems in Brigham City, Helper and at Hill Air Force Base in north Davis County were the only fluoridated systems in Utah for several decades, and voters periodically rejected wide-scale fluoridation.
But when coalitions of public health professionals and doctors campaigned hard for fluoridation in 2000, voters in Davis and Salt Lake counties agreed.
Davis County residents, except those in Layton and Woods Cross, have been drinking fluoridated water since last spring. Layton is still fitting its water system with the necessary equipment, and Woods Cross successfully opted out because it has an independent water system and voters there rejected fluoridation.
In Salt Lake County, a task force comprised of water company leaders and the Health Department drew up the ordinance that set the Wednesday deadline. It also exempted more than 100 small water systems, such as those at campgrounds, that serve fewer than 3,300 customers.
Sixteen water systems are required to fluoridate and four others will have fluoridated water because they buy water from wholesalers, DeLegge said.
The three that won’t meet the deadline include Riverton, which on Thursday will ask the health board for a 90-day extension.
Two others — Holliday Water Co. in Holladay and White City Water Co. in Sandy — don’t plan to fluoridate and could be sanctioned by the Health Department. Penalties range from fines to criminal action, and the Health Department could ask a judge to order a reluctant water company to fluoridate.
In the city of Holladay, a survey of residents found the majority does not want fluoridated water, manager Marlin Sundberg previously told The Tribune. Sundberg did not return recent phone calls. The water company serves about 15,000 residents.
The White City Water Co., which serves 15,000 people in Sandy and on county islands within the city, likewise has not added fluoridation equipment.
“The costs are extremely exorbitant,” says Jeffrey Budge, general manager. He figures it would cost $250,000 to $750,000 to buy the equipment for seven wells, depending on the technology used, and the annual costs would be too high for customers to bear.
Paul Ashton, the city’s attorney, said the water company will argue that it is “functionally separate” and should be able to determine its own course. “White City’s water is pure, untreated, deep well water. We have great concerns about injecting anything into the water supply,” Ashton said.
The cost of fluoridating has been high for the small companies, which have fewer customers to share the burden, than for the large water wholesalers.
The Taylorsville-Bennion Water Co., which serves about 60,000 people on the Salt Lake Valley’s west side, will spend about $1.3 million to $1.5 million to fluoridate three central locations fed by 17 water sources and to construct space to chlorinate water in the future, said Kevin Fenn, water safety manager.
The company will not be ready to fluoridate until perhaps November, and will buy all its culinary water until then, Fenn said.
In Murray, fluoridation is costing less than first thought because not all the water sources had to be fluoridated, said Phil Markham, public works manager.
The city has seven springs and 18 wells, but will add fluoride only at seven main wells used throughout the year, he said.
Fluoridation costs for the three biggest water companies — Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake and Sandy and Salt Lake City’s own water utility together supply 85 percent of the valley’s culinary water — are about what was predicted before the 2000 vote: $4 or $6 per connection per year, when the start-up costs are spread over several years.
Salt Lake City and Murray have spigots where residents can fill water bottles with nonfluoridated water.
The Health Department’s DeLegge said residents should discontinue all use of fluoride supplements on Wednesday, even if they receive water from a company not yet fluoridating.
“You don’t drink all your water at home,” he said, pointing out that people may drink from fluoridated systems at work, school or friends’ homes.
Prefer no fluoride?
Area residents can fill water bottles and jugs with nonfluoridated well water for free at two locations:.
Salt Lake City’s artesian well park, on the southwest corner of 800 South and 5OO East.
Murray is adding a spigot to the water tank in the cemetery on Vine Street, at 5450 S. 600 East.