It wasn't that long ago when some conservative groups were opposing the introduction of fluoride into local water systems, saying that the addition of the chemical to fight tooth decay was a sign that communism was taking over.

Well, fluoride in water systems is an issue again. But this time it's the federal government that wants to cut back levels, and a relatively conservative state--South Carolina--fighting the idea, according to a notice in the Dec. 1 Federal Register (page 58345).

Back in 1975, the government moved to reduce fluoride levels after the U.S. surgeon general determined that too much fluoride could cause "dental fluorosis," which in in "its most severe forms" can cause staining, pitting and flaking of dental enamel.

South Carolina studied the water supply in 43 communities and found that "the costs of fluoride reduction would make compliance with the current regulations economically burdensome."

In its petition to the Environmental Protection Agency to get the rules changed, South Carolinia claimed that "fluorosis is essentially an aesthetic effect" that doesn't deserve to be "controlled by a national drinking water regulation."

Sympathetic to the South Carolina concerns, the EPA already had a study under way to come up with revised water regulations by the fall of 1983. Given the state's concerns, EPA will now accelerate its work and come up with a decision "in approximately August of 1982," according to the notice.