OMAHA - Voters in at least 61 Nebraska communities will decide Nov. 4 whether they want fluoride added to their water supplies, the result of a new state law that requires cities to opt out if they don't want the chemical.
Although fluoride has been shown to prevent tooth decay, some people believe the substance is poisonous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Nebraska State Board of Health both say fluoridation of water is safe.
"People are being scared to death of adding fluoride to water,'' said Sen. Joel Johnson of Kearney, who sponsored the pro-fluoride bill. It applies to cities with more than 1,000 people.
Johnson called fluoride "the cheapest way of improving the oral health of all of us in the state, and to do it very inexpensively.''
Medicaid dental programs cost as much as 50 percent less in fluoridated communities, according to the CDC.
The state health board said that for every $1 spent on fluoridation, $38 is saved on dental treatments.
Most of Nebraska's population is served by public water systems that add fluoride to water. Forty-one systems are naturally fluoridated.
But 64 cities with more than 1,000 residents haven't had fluoride.
"It is controversial,'' said Sen. Don Preister of Bellevue, who led the opposition to the bill. "It is an industrial, hazardous waste chemical. For those people who understand what it really is, they would certainly be wanting to have the benefit to vote it down.''
Preister said some research links fluoride to health problems, and shows that it doesn't necessarily prevent tooth decay. Much of the information Preister shared with lawmakers earlier this year comes from the Fluoride Action Network, a group that says its goal is to spread awareness about the toxicity of fluoride.