TRENTON – Water companies throughout New Jersey would be required to add fluoride to the public water supply under a bill an Assembly panel passed Monday, at the urging of dentists and public health professionals but over the objections of environmentalists and utility officials.
The bill’s passage before the Assembly Health Committee was never in doubt; committee Chairman and physician Herb Conaway, (D-Camden) is a prime sponsor. But since 2005, the “New Jersey Public Supply Fluoridation Act,” has stalled and died before going to the full legislature for a vote, according to lawmakers and the legislative website. Opponents have succeeded in raising concerns about costs to consumers and potential health threats of exposure to difficult-to-regulate amount of fluoride that could cause health problems.
“It puzzles me this measure has not gone all the way through,” given the growing body of information that ties dental care with preventing serious medical conditions. Conaway said.
New Jersey is one of the nation’s least fluoridated states, with 1.1 million of its 8.7 million residents living in communities that adds the naturally occurring element to the public supply. New Jersey ranks 49th, ahead of Hawaii, for the number of citizens who have access to fluoridated water, dentists told the committee.
Barbara Ann Rich of Cherry Hill, president of the New Jersey Dental Association, said for every dollar spent fluoridating the water, saves $38 in dental and medical bills.
“This is the least expensive, most effective way of reduce dental disease in the country. Dental decay and dental disease are the most prevalent childhood disease in the country,” Rich said.
Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said he could support the bill if it guaranteed water companies would not use cheaper “industrial grade” fluoride that could have dangerous levels of metals.
“Fluoride in our water can be healthy, but not if it also contains toxic chemicals. The legislature’s job should be removing toxins not adding them,” Tittel said.
Ron Farr of the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission said residents “can ill afford more expense in this economy.”
If the bill passes, “All utility expenses are passed onto consumers,” Farr said. “Start-up capital expenses would be $1 billion to $2 billion on the drinking water side and $3 billion to $5 billion on the wastewater treatment side.”
Shaking his head, Conaway said he he was “incredulous” over the cost estimates. Bags of fluoride are simply poured into Atlantic City’s water when fluoride levels get low. Nothing about the equipment or supplies takes up much room, he said. “It’s hard to imagine how these costs are attached.”
The committee approved the bill (A1811) by vote of 8 to 0 with two abstentions. Unless Assembly leaders block it, the bill moves to the full 80-member body for a vote.