TRENTON – A bill that could save dental bills for residents by having public water fluoridated was released by the Assembly Health Committee.
The New Jersey Dental Association, the UMDNJ Dental School and New Jersey Public Health Association supported the bill.
Presently, they said only 13.6 percent of New Jersey, or 1.1 million residents, have access to fluoridated public water, ranking it 49th out of 50 states.
Cities like Trenton and Asbury Park have it, but too many municipalities don’t, they said. In neighboring states, some 50 percent of the public water is fluoridated.
For every $1 spent on fluoridation, $38 is saved in health care costs, they said. The representatives added poor children are 12 times more likely to miss school than their affluent peers. In sections of Upstate New York that lacked fluoridated public water, there was an uptick in pediatric dental visits.
Many major metropolises, such as New York City and Philadelphia, have had had fluoridated water since the late 1960s.
Several studies suggest that fluoridated water prevents cavities and tooth decay.
It wasn’t immediately known what the fiscal impact of the bill would be if it’s enacted.
Assemblyman Nancy Munoz said she strongly supports the bill, saying it would provide both economic and health benefits. She added that skeptics shouldn’t fear an unlimited amount of fluoride would be added to the public water.
“This is a controlled amount of fluoride,” she said.
New Jersey Dental Hygienists Association and the New Jersey Health Officers Association were also among the bill’s supporters.
The bill would require the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health and Senior Services to adopt rules and regulations relating to the fluoridation of public community water systems.
According to the legislation, the rules and regulations must include:
(1) the means by which fluoride is controlled;
(2) the methods of testing the fluoride content; and
(3) the records to be kept relating to fluoridation.
The DEP would require the fluoridation of all public water within 12 months of the bill’s signing.
The League of Municipalities, however, opposes the bill.
Environmental groups were also nonplussed by the legislation.
Jeff Tittel, of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that while the group is not philosophically opposed to the concept of fluoridated public water, cautioned that “industrial-grade fluoride” not be used, because it could contain mercury and other heavy metals.
However, Conway pointed out that public water already contains heavy metals, but it is monitored before it’s consumed by the public.
But David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation said industrial grade fluoride is often used in public water, which is “problematic.” A slightly higher concentration of flouridiation could have adverse effects and said that such products as french fries, cola, and some juices even contain it.
Pringle described it as an unfunded mandate.
“A statewide mandate is inappropriate,” he said. He said simply there are better alternatives.
He said 30,000 to 50,000 cancer deaths could be linked to fluoridated water.
The North Jersey District Water Supply Commission also opposed the bill, which serves 2.5 million residents, saying there are already ample amounts of fluoride in several products and that it would lead to higher costs for residents. It estimated the start-up costs to be between $1 billion and $2 billion.
Fluoride water first came to public consumption in Grand Rapids, Mich. in 1945.
Conaway decribed the cost estimates thrown around by opponents as “incredulous,” saying there are exiting structures in place. “It’s hard to imagine,” he said.
He said he hopes the bill goes directly to the floor, instead of it being reviewed by other committees, such as the Appropriations Committee.
Similar bills on flouridation have been tied up too many times in the past, he said.
Assemblyman Erik Peterson and Angelica Jimenez abstained. Both said they’re concerned about the cost, with Peterson saying the bill could negatively impact small water companies. He said he wanted more information.