Fluoride Action Network

Nebraska proposal would put local water fluoridation to public referendum

Nebraska Examiner | Feb 20, 2024 | By: Zach Wendling
Posted on February 20th, 2024
Location: United States, Nebraska

State Sen. Ben Hansen seeks to let more Nebraskans decide on water fluoridation across the state after a 2008 mandate allowed cities to opt-out.

LINCOLN — Conversations about water fluoridation may be on the horizon for more Nebraska cities or villages, in light of a legislative proposal under consideration this session.

Legislative Bill 1387, introduced by State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, would set up a referendum vote on whether communities should fluoridate their water supply, which is meant to fight tooth decay. In 2008, the Legislature mandated fluoridation for certain cities, with an opt-out option.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2025, LB 1387 would require cities or villages to opt-in through an ordinance and a vote of its residents at the next regular election.

It’s unclear whether communities already fluoridating would need to adopt another ordinance or put it to a vote; Hansen said in a text they wouldn’t have to end fluoridation in the meantime.

Hansen and an out-of-state dentist questioned the safety of water fluoridation, but local dentists and the state’s chief medical officer said it has provided health benefits and encouraged the practice to continue.

Hansen, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, which is considering his bill, said it’s time to give citizens the chance to decide once again on a mineral that is “anything but natural,” instead of “mandating a drug” to be added to local water.

“Our water systems are not to be used for drug distribution,” Hansen said at a hearing on the bill last Thursday.

‘A cavity can be filled’

Dr. Griffin Cole, a dentist from Austin, Texas, testified in support of Hansen’s bill, noting that any benefits from fluoride come from topical application on teeth, not swallowing.

Cole said fluoridation should be an informed decision between a patient and his doctor rather than a “political mandate” as it is in Nebraska. He said LB 1387 would restore local control with the flexibility to redirect resources to safer, more effective oral health strategies.

He also pointed to an apparently unpublished reportfrom the National Toxicology Program in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has systematically reviewed dozens of scientific articles on fluoride exposure. Some suggest a correlation between higher fluoridation and lower IQs in certain areas.

Joshua Bassan of Ithaca also testified in support. He said that when he stopped drinking fluoridated water about a decade ago — through an expensive filter — his impotence ended.

“When it’s that controversial, the safe and moral thing for the government to do is to do nothing,” he added.

Hansen, who also referenced the HHS report, said he visited a water treatment facility and saw the chemicals added to treat the water. “Almost all of them made sense,” he said, such as adding chlorine to prevent bacteria from spreading. He said fluoride was the only additive “used for a medicinal purpose and not to treat the water.”

“The key message here is: A cavity can be filled, but damage to the brain is permanent and lifelong,” Hansen said.

The report appears to remain unpublished, according to a U.S. DHHS website, which states the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has peer reviewed the report twice.

“Both times, the NASEM committee stated that NTP had not adequately supported its conclusions that fluoride should be classified as a cognitive neurodevelopmental hazard for humans,” the website reads.

‘Dental science’s main weapon’

Testifying in opposition to Hansen’s bill were dentists from Nebraska, such as Dr. Jessica Meeske, a pediatric dentist in Hastings, who said it does not make sense for communities to reaffirm the decision to put fluoride in the public water supply.

“I don’t think it does any more than it makes sense to allow communities to reaffirm the Clean Indoor Air Act or wearing seat belts,” said Meeske, president-elect of the Nebraska Dental Association.

Meeske and others who spoke in opposition encouraged lawmakers to see the benefits of fluoridation and the equitable distribution it provides to people of all backgrounds.

Charles Cone, a retired director of the Loup Basin Public Health Department and a former two-term mayor of Burwell, said he saw the benefits of fluoridation in his community. He testified that each year after fluoridation, it was a “straight line down” in immediate dental referrals. He said fluoridation led to savings in health care costs.

“Fluoride continues to be dental science’s main weapon in the battle against tooth decay,” Cone said.

Meeske challenged the validity of research suggesting negative health benefits from fluoride, including from the HHS report. She said communities can already vote to prohibit fluoridation, such as in Hastings. She added that should LB 1387 pass, her time would be spent defending fluoridation.

“Dentists care about the development of children’s brains,” Meeske said. “We would not recommend anything that we think would be harmful to the neurodevelopment of children.”

Nebraska DHHS recommends fluoridation

Dr. Timothy Tesmer, the state’s chief medical officer, testified in a neutral capacity. He noted that fluoride is one of the most successful public health interventions in history and has been since the 1930s.

Tesmer said there has not been “consistent and convincing evidence” that water fluoridation leads to unwanted health effects besides dental fluorosis, or spotty marks on tooth enamel, if exposure is too high. Over 45 of Nebraska’s 93 counties are short of needed dentists, he noted.

“For these reasons, (Nebraska) DHHS recommends that communities fluoridate their water supplies,” Tesmer said.

Meeske and Heidi Stark, a pediatric dentist in Lincoln, said they have seen fluorosis in children who have come to Nebraska from other countries, such as in Latin America where a higher prevalence of the mineral occurs naturally in water.

Lash Chaffin of the League of Nebraska Municipalities testified in a neutral capacity, noting that LB 1387 would create a new mandate by requiring a public vote on water fluoridation.

“The League is agnostic towards the science, but what we’re not agnostic towards is the fact that we think local elected officials need to be active in this decision making process,” Chaffin said.

Chaffin told the committee that of 528 municipalities, about 100 have some form of fluoridation.

‘Get it out of the water’

Hansen said he supports dentists and hygienists but said it “irks” him that most opponents did not address the National Toxicology Program report or bring data, as he did in a stack of papers.

“This isn’t Bob’s research facility in his basement — this is the government,” Hansen said.

State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont asked whether Hansen had any ideas on how to be “absolutely sure” every child receives topical fluoride. He responded that this “isn’t possible with anything” besides making fluoride widely available, such as in toothpastes.

“Even if you think it causes a small, little bit of damage to a child’s brain, get it out of the water,” Hansen said. “There’s no reason we should use water for medicine.”

Original article online at: https://nebraskaexaminer.com/2024/02/20/nebraska-proposal-would-put-local-water-fluoridation-to-public-referendum/