Efforts to ban the addition of chemicals such as fluoride to Hawaii’s drinking water appear dead in the state Legislature this year.
Although the Senate passed a measure in favor of a ban, a key House member says he has no plans to hear the proposal, effectively killing it this session.
“We don’t have any measure that is proposing or advancing fluoridation, either,” said House Health Chairman Dennis Arakaki, a fluoridation advocate. “I really don’t think it’s necessary to have this kind of negative legislation.”
Even if Arakaki (D, Alewa Heights-Kalihi) heard the bill and advanced it, the proposal still would need the approval of four other committees and the full chamber — a tough fight for any bill.
“I’m disappointed that they’re not even willing to hear it,” said Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Kailua), who introduced the proposal with fellow GOP Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) and majority Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Kalihi-Liliha).
Fluoridation has been debated at the Legislature for decades, most recently in 2003, when a bill to ban chemical additives to water quietly passed through the Senate before getting shelved in the House.
Counties also have taken up the issue. Last year, then-Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris signed a bill to ban additives, including fluoride, to Oahu’s water systems. The City Council had approved the measure 7-2.
According to a 2002 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Hawaii (8.8 percent) and Utah (2.3 percent) were the only states where less than 10 percent of the population received fluoridated water through public water supply systems.
This year’s Senate Bill 15, Senate Draft 1, does not specifically mention fluoride, but would ban “any product, substance or chemical to the public water supply for the purpose of treating or affecting the physical or mental functions of the body.” Common chemicals used to make water drinkable, such as chlorine, are not included.
Hogue said he wanted to introduce the ban this year because of concerns continually raised by constituents and groups that want to promote pure drinking water.
“People here in Hawaii believe that we have the cleanest water maybe just about anywhere,” Hogue said. “We don’t want any additives put in there. It’s an issue that resonates in the community.”
Advocates of fluoridation say adding fluoride to the water supply would improve the dental hygiene of Hawaii’s children, who have one of the nation’s highest rates of tooth decay.
Arakaki said he doesn’t expect the issue to go away.
“I think it’s going to come up every year and maybe people just want to keep the anti-fluoridation message alive,” he said. “It still doesn’t resolve the issue of how do we deal with a high number of children with cavities that’s costing the state a lot of money, not to mention the health of these kids.”