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Vote delayed on fluoridated water

March 15, 2005

By LAWRENCE HAJNA
Courier-Post Staff
TRENTON
The state's Public Health Council on Monday delayed a vote on whether to require fluoridation of a substantial portion of New Jersey's water supplies, saying the public should have an opportunity to comment on the proposal.

The council was poised to vote on a petition by the New Jersey Dental Association but pulled the vote upon the recommendation of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

"It is prudent for us to look at some of the scientific data out there and weigh what we want to do," said Herb Yardley, a council member who is also health officer for Denville in Morris County. "I really need to have some nuts and bolts."

The dental association is pushing for a regulation requiring investor-owned water companies to fluoridate their water to a standard of 1 part per million. The association says this will help in the fight against tooth decay.

Opponents argue the public is already getting too much fluoride through toothpaste, mouthwash and beverages bottled with fluoridated water. They argue the benefits of fluoride are questionable, and that it may cause health problems, such as thyroid impairment, hormone interference and bone cancer.

Fluoride is a common element and is also a byproduct of industrial processes.

The Environmental Protection Agency currently considers fluoride levels of 4 parts per million toxic, said Paul Connett, a scientist with the Fluoride Action Network, which opposes fluoridation.

Ruth Charbonneau, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the Department of Health and Senior Services, said a public hearing or hearings could be scheduled in two to three months.

Experts on both sides of the issue testified before the council in October, but the general public was not invited to speak at this meeting, Charbonneau said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection raised questions about costs implementing the program and also requested public hearings.

New Jersey ranks 48th in the nation, with about 15.5 percent of its population receiving fluoridated water. The dental association's proposal could bring fluoridated water to nearly half the population, including some 2 million people who get their water from New Jersey American Water Co., the state's largest water utility.