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Fluoride issue going on S.L. County ballot

Group says it has necessary signatures

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Salt Lake County voters will vote next November on whether to fluoridate their water.

Utahns for Better Dental Health, an organization seeking to put the issue on the general election ballot, announced Wednesday that it has obtained the 28,249 necessary certified signatures — in fact, it has obtained more than 38,000 of them.

Supporters have been gathering signatures for more than a year, primarily through dentists' and pediatricians' offices.

Organization Chairwoman Paula Julander, a Democratic state senator, said she was gratified.

"It's time we let the voters decide this issue," she said. "Today is a great day for Utah children."

More than 60 percent of U.S. residents drink fluoridated water, and various studies have concluded it improves general dental health.

Nevertheless, it has been a tough fight in Salt Lake County. Many residents oppose fluoridation because they believe it would be harmful rather than helpful to their health. Some have said they are allergic to fluoride, and that too much of it could even damage children's teeth.

Other residents oppose the practice because they perceive it as undue governmental intrusion. Those who want fluoride, they maintain, can get it through easily obtainable pills or drops.

The County Commission voted in 1998 not to put the issue on that year's ballot, despite urging from the Salt Lake City-County Board of Health.

"This is one of those issues that once it's in your water, you have to go to a great effort not to have fluoride," Commissioner Mary Callaghan said at the time. "You have to buy bottled water or do something else — it would be very difficult to get away from."

Republicans Callaghan and Brent Overson voted against fluoridation. Democrat Randy Horiuchi voted for it. A Deseret News poll conducted at the time showed 91 percent of county residents supported putting the issue on the ballot, while 65 percent supported fluoridation itself.

Democratic Salt Lake County mayoral candidate Karen Crompton, a strong supporter of putting fluoridation on the ballot, said she was pleased the issue is finally going to the residents.

"Significant public policy and public health issues such as this should be decided by the largest possible number of voters," she said. "This is the right election for the issue to be on the ballot since voter turnout in a presidential election year is higher than any other time."

The fluoridation issue is a hot one along the Wasatch Front right now. Officials in Weber, Davis and Utah counties are considering putting the question on the ballot, though they note problems with a state Senate bill, SB158, that may create a conflict with overlapping water district and voting precinct boundaries.

The debate dates back at least to 1961, when Salt Lake City voters rejected fluoridation by a three-to-one margin.

E-mail: alan@desnews.com