Fluoride in drinking water becomes less likely



A ruling by the state’s highest court apparently makes it less likely that King County officials could some day order fluoride be added to drinking water in Federal Way and elsewhere.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Board exceeded its authority when it ordered fluoridation in that county, the state Supreme Court ruled May 13, reversing a lower court’s decision that gave the board legal permission for a fluoride mandate two years ago.

Pierce County Health Department officials, who said the latest ruling is a setback for efforts to control dental disease, have the sympathy of the Seattle-King County Health Department. But the latter probably won’t challenge the court’s position.

Supreme Court justices have set “a pretty clear direction,” said James Apa, a spokesman for the department. Its officials will, however, “still push” for fluoridation through education programs aimed at citizens and water system officials.

Public health authorities contend that fluoride in drinking water would help curb what they’ve called an oral disease epidemic. Dr. Alonzo Plough, director of the Seattle-King County Health Department, is a leading advocate of fluoride and is on the board of the Washington State Dental Association.

Fluoridation of water is “one of the most effective strategies for improving oral health,” Apa said. “It has been proven safe by the (national) Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.”

Plough, in a published article he wrote this year, said some of the larger cities in King County, “including Seattle, Bellevue, Renton and Kent, have fluoride in the water, but too many other residents still do not

have the health benefits of fluoride.”

Some in the general public oppose fluoridation of public water supplies, in some cases because of alleged adverse health effects.

The Supreme Court, in its decision, didn’t take sides on the fluoride debate but did declare that water districts have control over the content of the water they provide.

Lakehaven Utility District, which supplies water for Federal Way, also supplies small areas of Pierce County. But the attempt at fluoridation by the health board there wouldn’t have affected Lakehaven customers because the district, whose home office is in Federal Way, is based in King County and not under any Pierce County authority.

If the King County Health Board or the state ever try to force Lakehaven to put fluoride in its water, the district would first ask its customers, said Lakehaven Commissioner Dick Mayer.

“It would be a (board of commissioners) decision, but it would go to a vote of the district’s ratepayers,” he said, adding the commissioners aren’t interested in fluoridating Lakehaven water.

There also apparently is little interest among customers, according to Mayer.

“We’ve gotten a few letters from people saying they don’t want it. There isn’t any (open or strong) support for it among our customers that we know of,” he said.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565,

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