J.Kalani English

Bill banning water additives moves forward

Measure called a thinly veiled attempt to ban fluoridation

The Maui News
Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Staff Writer

WAILUKU - Two Maui legislators who supported a bill that would ban additives in public drinking water say Hawaii's water shouldn't contain unnecessary chemicals.

The measure is opposed by Department of Health officials, who called the bill a thinly veiled attempt to ban fluoridation of water systems.

Senate Bill 1038 moved quickly through the Senate and now is awaiting second and third readings in the House. That means it requires only two more House hearings before being sent to Gov. Linda Lingle for signature.

If passed it would prohibit the addition of all chemicals to Hawaii's water supplies, "except those necessary to make it safe for human consumption."

While the bill doesn't specifically mention fluoride, it says that drinking water shouldn't be used to deliver "chemicals for medical or dental purposes."

Sen. J. Kalani English, who sits on the Water, Land and Agriculture Committee, where the bill was approved unanimously last month, said SB 1038 has been wrongly characterized as a measure against fluoridation.

"The full context of the bill is it bans additives in the water and makes exceptions for human safety," he said. "I don't know where fluoride falls in this, but personally I've never liked fluoride in the water."

DOH Dental Division chief, Dr. Mark Greer, said the Health Department has opposed the bill.

"The bill's a veiled attempt to ban fluoridation," he said. "It doesn't name fluoridation and it's unfortunate the attempt would be veiled that way."

He said the DOH had not been planning a new push for fluoridation in Hawaii, which outside of military bases has no water systems currently receiving the additive, but called fluoridation an effective, efficient means of reducing tooth decay.

"We're the only state right now that doesn't have community-based water fluoridation," he said. "It's tremendously reduced tooth decay in communities across the country."

Lanai-Molokai-East Maui Rep. Sol Kaho'ohalahala said he personally thought the proposal was a good idea, but added that he was impressed by the amount of public support for a ban on additives.

He said when the bill came before the House Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, on which he sits, discussion of it dominated the meeting. The committee eventually gave its unanimous support to the measure.

"It was pretty heavily attended and testified in support of the bill," he said. "It was a statement that we wanted to keep the water in Hawaii as pure as we can."

He recalled the public showed strong opposition to a past Castle & Cooke proposal to fluoridate the water system of Lanai, adding that addressing issues of diet and dental hygiene might be better ways of resolving high rates of tooth decay than fluoridation.

"All of my children grew up on Lanai and they all have very good teeth," he said. "We made a conscious decision to make sure dental care and hygiene were a common routine."

English said he supported the Republican-sponsored bill because he was concerned about unnecessary chemicals being added to public water.

"We're dealing with C9 Upcountry, and frankly I don't like anything being added to our waters," he said.

But even if the bill is passed into law, it likely would not affect the county Department of Water Supply efforts to control lead contamination by adding chemicals, such as Calgon C9, to the Upcountry water system.

Water Director George Tengan said the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health require the county to treat the water to prevent lead from leaching from customers' systems.

The department was using zinc orthophosphate, known commercially as Calgon C9, and is switching to another chemical, phosphoric acid, to block lead that can be found in fittings in some home plumbing systems.

"It's to make the water safe to drink. Lead is a health problem, especially for pregnant women and young children," Tengan said. "That deals with human safety."

The proposed law might not even apply to fluoride, said English, who represents Upcountry, East Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

"It depends on how you classify fluoride," he said. "Is it for human safety or not?"

Still, he said the bill would give "credibility" to arguments that chemicals not needed to make water safe should be eliminated.

But Greer called fluoridation a safe, effective public health measure that had been proved by science, and said claims to the contrary by a "small, vocal group" were unfounded.

"There comes a time when the evidence base needs to rise to the surface," he said. "If the claims they are making are not supported by scientific evidence, then they need to be put by the wayside so we can move on."

The state should be looking for efficient, cost-effective preventive health care measures in a time when budgets are tighter than ever, he added.

"We have an extremely high decay rate," he said. "We have extremely high dental care costs."

English and Kaho'ohalahala said the bill's path through the Legislature, which included a stop in only one committee in each chamber and no hearing before a health committee, was quick but not especially unusual.

"If you want something to be able to cross immediately and there isn't much disagreement, then you'd assign it to the appropriate committee and then let it go to the other house," Kaho'ohalahala said.

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