Senate Health Comm. releases fluoridation bill

TRENTON – After extensive testimony from medical professionals, utilities, business and insurance groups, the Senate Health Committee today released bill S959, the “New Jersey Public Water Supply Fluoridation Act.”

Just a little more than a week ago, the Assembly Health Committee passed its sister bill.

As in that hearing, the same supporters – such as the New Jersey Dental Association and the UMDNJ Dental School – voiced their support for the bill. They said it would lead to fewer missed school days for young children who are particularly prone to tooth decay, and that it would prevent infectious diseases.

They said it is safe, inexpensive and nondiscriminatory.

Fluoride on developing teeth, they said, creates an impervious barrier to decay.

About 70 percent of the country has access to fluoridated public water, but New Jersey ranks second to last, supporters said.

“We’re trying to promote dental health, not make money off of little kids,” one Trenton-based dentist said.

Dawn Marie Addiego, (R-8), Evesham, said she is extremely concerned because there’s currently no consistency among municipalities on the fluoride levels.

While her town doesn’t have fluoride, the neighboring town does, and she heard that the fluoride is contributing toward the corrosion of their equipment.

“As a mother that scares me,” she said.

She voted against it, saying it could be too costly.

Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), of Edgewater Park, and Sen. Sam Thompson (R-12), Old Bridge, abstained, saying they needed more time for research.

Various stakeholders were opposed to the fluoridation bill, citing a possibility of higher water bills and fluorois, and they called it akin to an “unfunded mandate.”  

Sara Bluhm of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said residents and businesses would likely see increases in their water rates, due to money the companies would have to spend to install infrastructure to accommodate fluoride  facilities.

“It’s going to be passed on through the rates to cover this,” she said. “We don’t want to see an increase in business costs.”

Sen. Robert Singer, (R-30), Lakewood, however, pointed out that the utilities were already “raiding” the customers with high water rates. “There’s something wrong with that,” he said.

Sarah McLallen of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans said the bill would lead to several public health benefits, such as cutting down on charity care costs for the state’s 1.3 million residents who currently lack insurance.

Addiego said she believed the facility-installation costs will be more than the $5 to $20 per person range that lobbying groups who supported the bill estimated. 

“I think it’s going to be a lot more money,” she said.

Karen Alexander, of the New Jersey Utilities Association, opposed the bill, saying it is “not a decision that should be imposed through their water companies. A mandate to do so removes people’s choice,” she said.

Sen. Joe Vitale, (D-19), Woodbridge, prime sponsor of the bill and Health Committee chairman, questioned some of the scientific evidence and estimates opponents were using, including the $2 billion estimate by David Pringle of the N.J. Environmental Federation, which opposes the bill.

“It’s not going to cost $2 billion,” Vitale said. “You know that.”

When Pringle tried to counter his claim, Vitale responded, “You’ve had your 15 minutes, let me have mine.” He then called Pringle’s scientific evidence “misguided.”

Diane Walsh of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey also opposed the bill, saying it will further corrode the business climate.

The Passaic Valley Water Commission, also opposed, said it will generate “considerable costs for customers” for storage-handling and maintenance. The estimate provided was approximately $430,000. The commission serves 800,000 residents. Senate Health Comm. releases fluoridation bill