luoridation isn't the cause celebre it was 20 years ago and no one this time is claiming it is a Communist plot. But Sen. Eva Scott, a Republican from Amelia County, felt the time was right this year for another crusade to extract fluoride from the drinking water in Virginia.

But her campaign fell flat today. Her bill to ban the anti-tooth decay agent, now in 80 percent of Virginia's public water supplies, died in a Senate committee, without a single vote in its favor. In killing it, some of Scott's colleagues showed some irritation at having to deal with the issue at all.

"It's been 25 years since this has been going on," said Sen. Willard Moody (D-Portsmouth), a member of the Senate Education and Health Committee, "and those who propose this have never been able to make their case."

Scott, a pharmacist who has enlisted as honorary chairman of a state group known as Fluoride Alert, said her colleagues were revealing a "closed mind. There is a reluctance to even consider this," said Scott, ". . . but if it were safe, it would no longer be an issue, would it?"

The senators' impatience was the last straw for a bill that had already been hit by heavy guns from the dental profession and state government.

At a public hearing, dentists got up to extol the virtues of fluoride as a weapon against tooth decay and state experts refuted research that suggested fluoride causes cancer and chromosomal damage.

"It would be a step back into the 19th century for the commonwealth,"said Dr. Jesse Steinfeld, dean of the medical college of the Virginia School of Medicine and a former U.S. Surgeon General. He called fluoridation the most effective, least costly form of child dental care.

On the other side, antifluoride groups complained that the public health establishment has been blind to the links between fluoride and disease, most recently cancer.

"We used to sell snake oil in the 1800s. I guess in the 1900s, it's flouride,"said John Yiamouyiannis, a biochemist and president of the Safe Water Foundation, a national group based in Ohio.

In some areas of the state -- particularly eastern Virginia, natural fluoridation is at excessive levels and the state has given grants to dilute the fluoride levels, according to Joseph Douherty, director of the division of dental health in the state health department.