Utah legislator considering a moratorium on fluoride in drinking water

Feb 21, 2019, 3:01 PM
Fluoride in the water lead Sandy...
Salt Lake County Health Department Employee Ron Lund takes water samples to be analyzed from homes in the effected area in Sandy on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Photo: Silas Walker / Deseret News)
(Photo: Silas Walker / Deseret News)

The Sandy Water Crisis started when a fluoride pump malfunctioned, sending massive quantities of undiluted fluoride into residents’ drinking water.

Now, its catastrophic results have some people asking: Why is there fluoride in our water in the first place?

At least one legislator, Rep. Steve Handy, is taking that question seriously enough that he’s considering putting forward a bill that would put a moratorium on all fluoride in our water.

KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic invited him on their show to discuss his proposed bill.

The growing anti-fluoride movement

Steve Handy

Rep. Steve Handy speaks to KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic about the fluoride in our water. The interview begins at 11:25. (Photo: KSL.com)

Fluoride is in our water because the people of Utah asked for it.

In November of 2000, residents in Salt Lake County, Davis County, and Logan City were invited to vote in a referendum on water fluoridation. They came out, had their voices heard, and our counties ensured that the water pouring out of their taps would have fluoride.

To some, however, that decision now seems to some like a colossal mistake. When that fluoride flooded Sandy’s water supply, it corroded the pipes, contaminating the water with lead and copper and leaving several people painfully ill.

Some have gone online to vent their frustrations:

Others have called elected representatives like Steve Handy, who says that he’s considering his bill because many of his constituents have asked for it.

“The incident in Sandy is very distressing,” Handy says. “I have constituents who are very concerned about it.”

Those constituents, he says, have asked him to try to pass a moratorium on fluoride in water. He says there’s a good chance he’ll do just that.

Is this a knee-jerk reaction?

CDC Fluoride Ad

A CDC advertisement espouses the medical benefits of water with fluoride. (Photo: CDC)

For the time being, Handy, says he’s still just “mulling” the bill. His fear, he says, is that he may be overreacting.

“We’ve had a public health issue. It’s very serious,” Handy says. “But a knee-jerk reaction just because the legislature’s in session to do something – I don’t have enough information to really operate there.”

When Utah first voted on fluoridation, Handy actually voted in favor of it. At the time, he says, he trusted in the guidance of dental experts who assured him it was the right move. Before he presents his bill, Handy wants to make sure he’s not throwing out their wisdom in a panic.

To get a dental expert’s perspective, Dave & Dujanovic invited Dr. Jared Richardson onto the show to ask whether having fluoride in the water is really a good idea.

Dr. Jared Richardson speaks to Dave & Dujanovic on their podcast. The interview begins at 31:10.

Richardson’s answer was unequivocal.

“Absolutely a good thing. Absolutely,” Richardson told Dave & Dujanovic.

Fluoride, Richardson explained, is actually naturally found in ground water. Laws for water fluoridation, he says, really just manage the level of fluoride to make sure they’re at the optimal level. That level, he says, is about 0.7 mg per L – the recommended level already used in Sandy City.

“For kids, it’s very beneficial, especially when those permanent teeth are being developed,” Richardson says. “The fluoride is able to be integrated into their teeth . . . The whole tooth becomes a little bit stronger and more resistant to acidic attacks from bacteria.”

When it comes to fluoride, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. Richardson cited an incident in Oakley, Idaho, where excessive fluoride levels discolored the people’s teeth. But even in that case, Richardson says, the fluoride still had benefits.

“Their teeth looked funny and they were discolored,” he says, “but they never got cavities.”

Handy, for his part, remains undecided. He says there is about a fifty percent chance that he’ll put the moratorium forward in a bill. But whether he ultimately puts it forward or not, he says that, right now, it’s important to ask these kinds of questions.

“I think it’s right, in public policy . . . we step back and we say: ‘Now hold it,’” Handy says. “That’s where the people get to be involved. We say: ‘Hold it. Are we doing the right thing?’”

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Utah legislator considering a moratorium on fluoride in drinking water