The Public Health Committee unanimously approved a bill that would align the state’s water fluoridation standards with a federal recommendation issued last year, and also lower the maximum amount of fluoride that could be placed in the state’s public drinking water.
The bill, HB 5350, has been sent to the state House of Representatives for further action.
Fluoride was first added to the public water supply in 1945 to protect against tooth decay. Last year, the federal government updated water fluoridation recommendations for the first time since 1962. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended a fluoride concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter in public drinking water.
The previous recommendation — in place from 1962 until 2015 — ranged from 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter. Fluoride is also naturally occurring in water.
While the federal government recommends fluoridation levels, state and municipal governments decide whether the mineral should be added to public drinking water. In Connecticut, any public water company serving more than 20,000 people is required by state law to maintain a fluoride content of between 0.8 and 1.2 milligrams per liter.
Legislation approved by the Public Health Committee would instead require that the same water companies not add more than “one-tenth of a milligram per liter different” than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation.
Therefore, the maximum amount of fluoride that could be added to the state’s public drinking water is 0.8 milligrams per liter, instead of 1.2 milligrams per liter.
The bill revises the current statute to reflect the new recommendation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the optimal concentration of fluoride to be added to public water supplies.
William Nash, president of the Connecticut State Dental Association, said the association strongly supports the legislation.
“Fluoride in drinking water is proven to benefit overall dental health. Water fluoridation is safe and effective, which is proven by the more than 70 years of scientific research,” Nash said. “The CSDA is committed to educating Connecticut residents about oral health and advocating for the best practices in dentistry, and one of those practices is fluoridation in community water supply.
“The safety of fluoridated water has been confirmed by the HHS, the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the World Health Association, and other numerous reliable public health agencies throughout the world,” Nash added.
Mary Boudreau, executive director of the Connecticut Oral Health Initiative, testified at the public hearing in favor of the legislation.
“Tooth decay, which is largely preventable, remains the most common chronic disease of children aged 5 to 17 years,” said Boudreau. “In Connecticut, tooth decay affects 1 out of 5 children, ages 3 to 5 years, and 2 out of 5 children, ages 6 to 9 years.
“Missing or unhealthy teeth also impact adults’ job opportunities,” Boudreau continued. “Poor dental health has significant consequences; however, community water fluoridation is a truly preventive measure to combat tooth decay.”
Also speaking in favor of the bill at the public hearing was Werner Oyandel, executive director of the Latino & Puerto Rican Affairs Commission (LPRAC).
“It is very important to note that Connecticut is one of 13 states that have statutes or regulatory language guaranteeing access to fluoridated water,” Oyandel said. “As a matter of fact Connecticut was the first state in the nation passing such legislation. LPRAC is supportive of our state fluoridation law because of the vast research that concluded that fluoridated water is the most effective and practical method for closing the gap of tooth decay between affluent and disadvantaged Americans.”
Oyandel continued: “Moreover, fluoridation benefits everyone who drinks fluoridated tap water or uses it to prepare other foods or beverages — particularly because Latino children and adults who live in poverty or who struggle to access regular dental care receive the greatest benefit.”
Not everyone is in favor of fluoridation. Several people at the public hearing spoke against the legislation, including Peter McCrea, of Norwalk
“I do not want my family, especially my young children, exposed to a toxic chemical that is actually industrial waste from the fertilizer and aluminum industries who sell it to municipal water providers,” McCrea said. “It is disgraceful that a toxic substance is pushed on trusting citizens as a public health measure, even though it is impossible to provide individualized dosages.
“Thousands of young people now have white spots on their teeth from an overdose of fluoride. Just imagine the negative effects on their growing bones that we cannot see,” he said.
And Bristol resident Anne T. Skorupski warned during the public hearing that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan should “wake us all up.”
“Fluoride being highly corrosive can leach stuff like lead out of our pipes, so depending on the age of the pipes in your home, God only know what’s coming out of your particular tap,” said Skorupski. “You’ve got a filter? Well, news for you. The Britas [filters] don’t get rid of fluoride, only reverse osmosis does. Stop fluoridating our water and see our health costs go down, too.”
The Flint water crisis started in April 2014 after the city changed its water source from treated water — sourced from Lake Huron as well as the Detroit River — to the Flint River, to which officials had failed to apply corrosion inhibitors. As a result, its drinking water reportedly had a series of problems that culminated with lead contamination, creating a serious public health danger. The corrosive Flint River water caused lead from aging pipes to leach to into the water supply, causing extremely elevated levels of the heavy metal.
In Flint, between 6,000 and 12,000 children have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead and they may experience a range of serious health problems. The water change is also a possible cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the county that has killed 10 people and affected another 77.
But the majority of testimony submitted was in favor of the bill.
Nash said after fluoridation of public water began in 1962, the number of 12- to 19-year-olds with one or fewer cavities increased from 60 percent to 90 percent.
Several dentists submitted similar testimony, while state Department of Public Health Commissioner Raul Pino offered his support as well. Pino said that 91 percent of residents connected to public water systems in the state have access to fluoridated water.