BATON ROUGE — Larger water supply systems around the state have until March 1 to assemble plans that could result in all of their customers receiving fluoridated water to improve dental health.
But the mostly municipal systems don’t have to purchase the equipment and start fluoridating water until the state supplies the money.
State law (Act 761 of 2008) says that water suppliers that have at least 5,000 service connections must submit to the Department of Health and Hospitals by March 1 plans and cost estimates for installing the necessary equipment. The Legislature this year reenacted and strengthened a previous law that suggested fluoridation by 2000.
“Most of the civilized world is fluoridated,” said Dr. John Taylor, a Crowley dentist who was one of the leaders of the fluoridation movement and got his city to start adding fluoride this past May. “Here’s a chance for Louisiana to join the rest of the civilized world.”
Fluoride is a naturally occurring element in water and “we’re just adjusting it to its optimal level,” Taylor said. “Now we just have to get the money.”
Tom Ed McHugh, director of the Louisiana Municipal Association, says the money catch may be the deciding element in the fluoride debate. With an impending $1.3 billion shortfall next year, “the state having extra money for fluoridation is not likely,” McHugh said.
Adding fluoride has stirred controversy in some areas of the state, but DHH officials and the American Dental Association say it is important because it inhibits the bacteria that cause tooth decay and strengthens enamel that has been damaged by bacteria.
Besides the state funding loophole, the law has provisions that allow municipalities to opt-out of fluoridation. A section of the new law allows a referendum of system customers if 15 percent of the elected voters in a service area sign a petition and the governing body agrees to such a vote. Opting out of fluoridation would require a vote of more than 50 percent of the water system customers.
Jim Barnett, superintendent of public works in Bossier City, said that city’s water system has been fluoridated for about 20 years and “we’ve never had a problem.
Bossier City is among several systems in Louisiana that add fluoride to water and most systems have naturally occurring fluoride. In Central Louisiana, Vidalia, Natchitoches and Leesville are among the systems that add fluoride to drinking water. The ADA says the optimal level is 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter of water.
A 1997 Tulane University study found that almost 50 percent of the community water systems in Louisiana had fluoridated water and 116 communities have naturally occurring fluoride at or above 0.7 milligrams.
In Rapides Parish, 28 systems were tested with the City of Alexandria, Camp Beauregard and England Industrial Airpark at 1.1 milligrams per liter.
The Village of Woodworth was highest with 2.2 and the Village of Forest Hill lowest with no fluoride detected.