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Bill dealing with fluoridation causing some waves

Published February 21, 2013 11:37 am

Health • Davis lawmaker gets bill through House but Senate proving more difficult.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, wants to ensure that Utah communities with fluoridated water know precisely what's in the water.

Barrus, sponsor of HB72, believes if a fluoridation system is in place, it should have appropriate safety measures and full disclosure of water quality throughout the process, until it reaches the consumers' tap.

Many fluoridation products are transferred in bulk via tanker trucks, rail cars or other means, which some believe could potentially degrade water quality.

"We need to inform our public of exactly what they're consuming," said Barrus, a retired engineer and a lawmaker since 2000. "The request for it came from informed constituents to ensure compliance with scientific and legal standards already established."

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings is backing the proposed legislation.

In a letter to Barrus, Rawlings said the bill is straightforward and unrelated to previous controversy in the county about fluoridation.

"Despite representations you may hear from other voices, this has nothing to do with the merits of the fluoride debate," Rawlings' letter said. "The request is based on researched and reasoned inquiries from informed constituents. It has everything to do with (a) ensuring that the additives do not deter water quality/safety and (b) compliance with scientific and legal standards set up to accomplish this."

Barrus said HB72 addresses a statewide concern, and he has a hard time fathoming why the bill is facing obstacles in the Legislature.

"What rational legislator would ever tell a constituent that 'I support putting impurities in your drinking water, but I don't want to give you a transparent process so you can know how much?'" Barrus said in an email to The Tribune.

Another Davis county lawmaker, Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, agrees.

"It's a good thing to improve local control," Barlow said. Local residents are "the ones drinking the water."

The bill, if enacted, would go into effect in July — requiring all manufacturers to supply documentation that they meet standards advocated by the private National Sanitation Foundation/American National Standards Institute certifications.

Ken Bousfield, director of the state Division of Drinking Water, worked with Barrus on the bill, but declined to comment whether it had his support. He said, however, that he has been satisfied previously in trusting his relationships with fluoridated water suppliers.

HB72 passed in the House 59-12 but has been held up in a Senate committee since Feb. 7.

Rep. Larry Wiley, D-West Valley City, was among the dozen opponents in the House. He views it as just another attempt to question fluoridation altogether.

"It's like trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer," Wiley said. He believes there is ample federal oversight and tracking of products containing hazardous materials.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets a maximum contaminant level for fluoride ion in water at 4 milligrams per liter. NSF-certified treatment products are limited to less than one-third of that amount of contaminant, according to the NSF.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, a retired pediatric dentist, is a big proponent of fluoridation and questions the purpose of the measure.

"I just want to make sure it's not an end run to stop fluoridation," he said. "If we found out that batch certification wasn't available, then the county has to pull the fluoridation."

Thatcher Company, Utah's biggest chemical manufacturing and distribution company, who has been in the water treatment business for 30 years, will be left to deal with the legislation's consequences, if enacted.

"The products that go into the water supply are all regulated by the federal government," company President Craig Thatcher said. "The EPA sets up finished water standards. And they say exactly what the contamination levels can be. They require on-site approval and inspect your facility on a regular basis. There is really no need for any additional tests."

While Thatcher confirms the bill's stipulations could be met, "It's very expensive to do and it's an ongoing process that we have to take care of. The public can already be certain without this bill in place."

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Fluoridation

Fluoridation of water systems is more than half a century old on the national level with Grand Rapids, Mich., standing as the first city to do so. In Utah, the following jurisdictions have fluoridated water, according to the state:

Davis County

Salt Lake County

Brigham City

Helper

Hill Air Force Base

The Ute Tribal System