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GOP ignores science at own peril

Published 07/05/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 07/03/2013 03:02 PM

Providing for the fluoridation of Connecticut's public water supply has been the health policy in the state for nearly 50 years and has been universally accepted as a safe and inexpensive method of preventing tooth decay for longer than that.

The Center for Disease Control lists the contribution of fluoride to the nationwide decline in tooth decay as one of the 10 greatest health successes in the 20th century.

Water fluoridation has saved residents of the United States nearly $40 billion in dental costs in the past 50 years and the Connecticut Public Health Department reports the lifetime cost to an individual for fluoridation is lower than the cost of treating a single cavity.

Sen. Joseph Markley has tried to save us from all of that government intrusion.

The Southington Republican is thinking about reintroducing a bill next session to ban fluoride from public drinking water because it adds an extra expense to already straitened town budgets. He believes government shouldn't mandate taking medicine of any kind.

It's estimated that 91 percent of Connecticut residents drink fluoridated water provided by companies with more than 20,000 customers, as required by the law. The others use wells or are served by numerous small companies, like the Jewett City Water Co., which has 1,800 customers. Sherry Fifield, a customer sales representative, said her company has preferred to avoid the expense of "adding one more thing to the water."

That's their choice as a small utility, albeit a poor one.

Sen. Markley's bill banning fluoride for the 91 percent went nowhere in the last session and before deciding about next year, he held an informal hearing at the Capitol in late June. He said he intended to air the views of both sides of a debate that has been dormant in Connecticut for more than half a century. Only one side showed up.

Paul Connet, a retired chemistry professor and an ardent foe of fluoridation, spoke before a small group that included a woman from Bristol who told the Hartford Courant she's been buying bottled water for her pets for 50 years in order to protect them from fluoride poisoning.

Dr. Connett spoke of studies suggesting fluoride damages bones and tooth enamel and may even lower the IQs of babies. He bolstered Sen. Markley's opposition to government fluoridation, saying individuals should determine whether they should buy and use fluoride, just like any other medicine.

Absent from the hearing were representatives of the Connecticut State Dental Association, which had accepted the senator's invitation but then backed out when they learned Dr. Connett was going to be there.

"We're very interested in getting the information and history and the science of fluoride out to the people," said Dr. Mark Desrosiers, president of the dental association, which strongly endorses fluoridation. "But we wanted to avoid emotional debates and sensationalism. We just didn't want any part in that."

Sen. Markley, the only avowed Tea Party member in the General Assembly, had also introduced a failed bill that would have banned businesses like hospitals and food handlers from requiring their employees to have flu shots. His position appears to be more anti-government mandates than anti-science and after the hearing, he admitted to having some second thoughts about submitting his bill again.

Telling the online CT News Junkie that he was not ready to judge fluoride despite its long-term recognition as effective and safe, the senator said he did feel the hearing reinforced his view that the state shouldn't require fluoride in public drinking water. But he indicated he would have to see more interest from fellow lawmakers before introducing the legislation again.

We urge the senator's Republican colleagues to discourage Sen. Markley and thereby avoid adding fluorides to the party's growing anti-science reputation. There has been enough of that from extremists opposing settled science like evolution, being against vaccinations for school children and debunking global warming over the protests of moderates like Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, among others.

Mr. Markley's bill would only serve to enhance that unfortunate image.

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