Fluoride Action Network

Water companies sue to stop fluoride

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune | January 8th, 2004 | By Thomas Burr
Location: United States, Utah

Two small water companies are suing to keep fluoride out of their supplies and are raising legal questions about whether it should flow to any of Salt Lake County.

Holliday Water Co. and White City Water Improvement District have filed suit in 3rd District Court against Salt Lake County, the Salt Lake Valley Health Department and the Health Board, seeking an exemption from including fluoride in their water — which supplies a combined 24,000 people.

The companies argue that since the then-County Commission did not vote to put the issue on the 2000 ballot — instead, it allowed a grass-roots petition to become a ballot initiative — the vote may be “illegal, null and void.”

Even if the court disagrees, the companies say, they should be exempt because state law allows privately held water companies and those with separate systems to opt out.

The providers also say that if they are forced to fluoridate, the county should pick up the tab. White City says the price could range from $700,000 to $1.5 million, and Holliday argues its bill could top $500,000.

Countywide voters approved fluoridation by 58 percent to 42 percent in 2000; fluoridated water started flowing throughout most of Salt Lake County on Oct. 1. Some small water providers, such as campgrounds, were exempt from the mandate.

Holliday and White City — which have yet to fluoridate — have complained that the costs would put a financial strain on the companies and their customers; they say their concerns have nothing to do with the pros or cons of the additive itself. Numerous medical professionals point to fluoridation as an effective weapon against tooth decay. But opponents argue that consumers should be able to choose individually what they want in their water.

The Salt Lake County Council ruled in December that Holliday and White City were exempt from fluoridating their water for a year until the dispute was resolved, but Health Department Executive Director Patti Pavey said then that state law grants health officials the authority to trump county ordinances on health issues. The council has yet to adopt the ordinance formally.

Health officials and County Deputy District Attorney Karl Hendrickson declined to comment on the lawsuits Wednesday. But Health Board members will meet in closed session today to discuss the suits.

The board also is expected to discuss a request by Sandy leaders to put fluoride back on the ballot this year. City leaders fear the issue has not been “adequately examined” by voters and the costs of adding fluoride to the city’s 23 wells — used primarily in summer months — would be $1.4 million. West Jordan and Riverton also have made similar requests for residents to have another vote on the issue.

White City’s general counsel, Paul Ashton, says the company’s suit seeks foremost to allow the improvement district to have a separate vote on fluoride. The provider serves mainly residents of the unincorporated islands in Sandy and other midvalley areas.

“We just want to protect our people,” Ashton said, saying that it was unfair for White City’s customers to have to pay up to $1.5 million to fluoridate when residents polled on the issue don’t want the additive.

“It’s always been a question of a right of self-determination,” he said. “Voters in Salt Lake City should not have the right to increase our bills.”

Marc Wangsgard — attorney for Holliday Water, which serves residents in Holladay and the unincorporated East Bench — says the suits were filed to prevent the Health Board from enforcing its mandate on the providers. The suits, he says, should allow the parties time to reach an amicable solution. “It was really to protect our rights,” he said. “We’re not trying to draw battle lines.”