By Carla O’Day
A bill introduced by two state lawmakers that would require the Nevada Board of Health adopt regulations mandating the fluoridation of water in counties with more than 100,000 residents concerns local officials.
The Truckee Meadows Water Authority board heard from its lobbyist, Steve Walker, on Wednesday about bills affecting the utility that are being introduced in the Nevada Legislature. State law currently requires fluoridation of water in counties having more than 700,000 residents. Smaller counties need approval of voters. Washoe County’s estimated population in 2015 was 446,903.
Assembly Bill 193 is sponsored by Assemblywoman Amber Joiner, D-Reno, and Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle, D-Sparks. The bill has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining, and Walker said it could be heard or voted on before TMWA’s next regularly-scheduled meeting next month.
If approved by the full Legislature, TMWA would need to rehabilitate its plants and wells. The initial cost would be $70 million, followed by $3 million in annual maintenance fees, TMWA executive director Mark Foree said.
Doing this would mean an additional 8.8 percent rate increase for customers, which is on top of the three percent increase already expected in May.
“We tack on an eight percent increase and voters will take us to the shed,” Reno Councilwoman Neoma Jardon said.
The cost estimate was provided by an outside engineering firm, Foree said.
“I’m pretty neutral on the concept of fluoridation and I’d like to watch it myself,” Reno Councilwoman Naomi Duerr said. “But I’m not sure about this fiscal note.”
Voters in 2002 rejected WC-1, which would fluoridate the water system but Reno Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus noted that voting populations and communities change. However, it’s unlikely TMWA would get money from the state to meet requirements should this bill pass. Grants are possible but would make a minimal dent in the cost.
“I object to a state mandate,” Brekhus said. “Water shouldn’t be used as a medical delivery system.”
Sparks Councilman Kristopher Dahir noted that Clark County has a fluoridated water system and it must be benefiting residents there because it’s continuing.
“The state deciding against the voters is questionable but it’s important to look at the benefits,” Dahir said.
Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick urged the board to support the bill. There’s lots of misinformation about water fluoridation, just as people who are opposed to vaccinations put out misleading literature on shots, he said. Also, he said the automobile industry was resistant about putting seat belts in vehicles decades ago due to costs but seat belts have proven to save lives.
“Fluoridation of water is proven to increase oral health,” Dick said. “It strengthens tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay. The investment will result in great return.”
Some board members said they’ve spoken to constituents who oppose fluoridation of water or who’ve said they’re allergic to fluoride.
“There are 25 other allergens that are in toothpaste products that have been confused with being allergic to fluoride,” Dick said.
Ultimately, the board declined to support the bill as written because of cost and the decision of voters 15 years ago.
“The bill could change over time,” Duerr said. “Let’s leave the door open.”
Text of AB 193: https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/79th2017/Bills/AB/AB193.pdf
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Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.