Utahns want the chance to decide whether fluoridation is added to their water.

In Salt Lake County, at least, it looks as if they will get their wish. The Salt Lake City-County Board of Health voted unanimously to ask the County Commission to place a fluoridation initiative on the November ballot.In a recent Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, a whopping 92 percent of people statewide said they would like the opportunity to vote on the issue. Only 5 percent said they don't want fluoridation to come to a vote.

And the majority of those polled also indicated they would, by substantial margins, favor fluoridation of the water in their counties. Of those interviewed, 65 percent said they would favor fluoridation, while only 20 percent would oppose it. The survey has an error rate of plus or minus five percent.

The answers in Salt Lake County alone were nearly identical to the statewide responses. In the county, 91 percent said they favor putting the issue on the ballot. And 65 percent would vote for fluoridation.

Adding fluoride to the water has been controversial for decades. Proponents - among them many dentists and health care providers - maintain that adding only a small amount of fluoride to drinking water would result in a 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in tooth decay. Those results, they say, have been seen repeatedly in the areas where water has been fluoridated.

While very few water systems in Utah have fluoride, said Lewis Garret, director of family health services at the City-County Health Department, most systems nationally are fluoridated. Of the 50 states, only Utah and Nevada have low fluoridation rates.

Those who disagree with fluoridation cite various reasons, ranging from claims it would add dangerous chemicals to the water to an older, but still-heard complaint that fluoridation is a "communist" plot.

Some of the strongest opposition comes from The Safe Water Coalition, a national anti-fluoridation group headquartered in California. They say that fluoridation has been linked to health problems ranging from risks to pregnant women and their babies to increased symptoms of dementia in people with Alzheimer's.

Other groups dispute those findings.

Local health officials such as Garrett call the complaints scare tactics. After all, Garrett said recently, fluoridation has been in some water systems for decades.

During the 1998 session, the Utah Legislature passed HB405, a bill that allows citizens to vote on whether fluoride should be put in local water supplies. An earlier, 1976, law made it very difficult for the issue to be on the ballot.

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Deseret News Poll

In your opinion, should residents be given the opportunity to vote on fluoridation of water in Utah?

Statewide Salt Lake

County

Definitely 76% 78%

Probably 16% 13%

Probably not 3% 4%

Definitely not 2% 3%

Don't know 3% 3%

Do you personally favor or oppose fluoridation of water in your county?

Strongly favor 38% 37%

Somewhat favor 27% 28%

Somewhat oppose 7% 8%

Strongly oppose 13% 16%

Don't know 14% 12%

A poll of 926 adults statewide, which included 403 adult residents of Salt Lake County, was conducted April 6-11 by Dan Jones & Associates. It has a margin of error of +/- 5.0 percent. Dan Jones & assoicates is an independent polling form whos clients include other organizations and sometimes political parties and candidates. Among his clients are Robert Bennedd, Merrill Cook and the Utah Republican Party.

Copyright Deseret News, 1998