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Fluoridation measure a sham

The bill would effectively make it impossible to treat water supplies

Activists for dental health have lobbied the Oregon Legislature for decades to require water systems to take the common-sense step of fluoridating water provided to their customers.

Finally, legislators appear to be listening, but in a step that only a politician could love, they've managed to support fluoridation while at the same time killing the likelihood that it actually will come to pass.

After a sometimes contentious debate in which the usual fears were raised ' You're poisoning our water ' and rightly dismissed, the House Water Committee unanimously voted Wednesday to move House Bill 2025 to the vote of the full House.

HB 2025 would require water systems serving more than 10,000 people to fluoridate their water. The bill would affect many of the state's largest water systems, among them the Medford Water Commission. Other large cities that do not fluoridate include Portland, Eugene, Bend and Hillsboro.

Despite the naysayers, the evidence of benefits from fluoridation is compelling: Groups such as the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, point to more than a half-century of documented evidence that adding low levels of fluoride to public drinking water is a safe, cost-effective way to reduce cavities by up to 60 percent in baby teeth and up to 35 percent in permanent teeth.

So, it would seem, based on the support for HB 2025, that the Legislature has listened to that evidence and is willing to step up to do the right thing. But, in the world of politics, things are not always what they seem.

— The plain truth is that the legislative measure is a sham, one that pretends to do something while in fact it likely does nothing. Because the measure comes with no funding source, local governments are not required to comply. Beyond that, an amendment prohibits those governments from assessing taxpayers or even adding a fee to monthly charges for customers.

So the measure mandates that water be fluoridated, but then not only fails to provide any money to do so, but goes a step further and prevents local governments from raising money locally.

We really have no disagreement with the idea that there will be no money from the state, which is, after all, unable to pay for the many basic services it is now supposed to provide. If we have to choose between schools and fluoride, we choose schools.

But why is the state prohibiting local governments from adding a modest fee to their monthly water charges? In some ways, that prohibition makes the bill more of an impediment than a boost to fluoridation. Cities and water districts currently could begin fluoridation and charge a fee to cover their expenses.

The estimated expense to water users is minuscule, with the fluoride itself costing only about 50 cents a month per household. Equipment costs would add to that, but also could be spread out over many years to lower the impact.

The House bill essentially tells communities they will have to cut other programs or hold fund-raisers if they want to improve the health of their residents. We doubt that many of those communities would do either.

This sleight of hand is just the sort of nonsense that gives legislators a bad name. If they want to encourage fluoridation, do it with a measure that actually accomplishes what it says, rather than crafting a political facade that accomplishes nothing.