That Seanad Éireann notes the fundamental human right of every Irish citizen to choose whether or not they have their water medicated with fluoride given that they are, from 1 October 2014, paying for it.
This is a historic day as most people realise today is the first day in the history of the State that our citizens will be charged for their water. I could not think of a better day to put forward my motion for the fundamental right of citizens to choose whether or not they have their water medicated with fluoride given that from today, 1 October, they are paying for it.
It is inarguably a breach of the European human rights and biomedicine directive Article 1 which states, “Parties to this Convention shall….guarantee everyone…respect for their integrity and other rights and fundamental freedoms with respect to the application of biology and medicine.” Article 5 states, “An intervention in the health field may only be carried out after the person concerned has given free and informed consent to it.” As the Irish public has not given consent nor has it been given full information on the adverse risks, this medical intervention is in breach of these directives. I would like to see these human rights directives become law.
In March 2006 the National Research Council, an arm of the US National Academy of Scientists, issued a review of all the available literature on fluoride’s health effects. The report was written at the request of the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency. The report represented three years work of deliberations by a panel of 12 scientists who were selected for their balanced views. It acknowledged the following adverse effects of fluoride not previously identified: thyroid impairment; type 2 diabetes – an issue that upsets the Minister as Minister for Health; dental fluorosis; arthritis; bone fractures; lowering of IQ; and brain damage, the latter especially in the presence of aluminium. All of these effects with the possible exception of bone fractures and lower IQ can occur at one part per million, that is 1 ml per litre.
Eminent scientists, doctors, toxicologists and chemists have written countless books and reports on the adverse effects and dangers of fluoride. The Government has reviews that suggest this is perfectly safe. The National Research Council’s three year reports say it is not safe. We all know for sure with any medical controversy we must err on the side of safety.
I am not a scientist, a doctor or a chemist and never will be, but having taken the NRC’s findings into my thinking and considering the countless books that have been written by these erudite academics and scientists, I am not willing to continue to risk the health of my family, who are here today, by exposing them to fluoridated water or stand here as a Senator. I know for sure we cannot continue to take a chance. If even one minutiae of what these scientists, doctors, books and countless studies say is correct we must cease fluoridation and remove any risk from the future health of our citizens. I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is present but I wish the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was present also.
I might add that I believe every Irish citizen who chooses has the right not to pay Irish Water for water that is fluoridated. I am delighted to pay for Irish water but please do not put medication in it without my permission. Some 98% of Europe has rejected fluoridation so why are we still doing this? It is against the law in Holland but compulsory by law in Ireland. This makes no sense.
One of us has got it terribly wrong. I repeat my sentiment that just in case Sweden, Holland, Belgium and most recently Israel have got it right, should we not look at the issue?
Why do we not have the same labelling as our American counterparts, namely, “Warning, keep out of reach of children under eight years of age”? I have a tube of American toothpaste with me. As I have stated it reads,
Based on this warning alone we should clearly understand that fluoride is a poison. Under US law, the FDA’s warning must be on packaging, boxes and tubes in the United States of America. I have with me another tube of toothpaste which is Irish but does not have that warning.
I absolutely love everything to do with America. It brought fluoridation here in 1963 when it appeared to be the right thing to do. That was 51 years ago. In the US all fluoridated toothpaste carries a poison warning. If one swallows more than a pea sized amount, one should contact a poison control centre. The very same toothpaste sold here has no warnings. I ask the Minister to ask the expert group on fluoridation why our citizens are being kept in the dark about its dangers.
Critically, fluoride is added to tap water at potentially toxic levels. A glass of Irish tap water contains the same amount of fluoride as a pea sized amount of toothpaste. I am having dinner in the restaurant tonight and I hope to see the Minister of State there. I ask her to remember that a glass of tap water contains the same amount of fluoride as a pea sized amount in toothpaste. Fluoride is a pharmaceutical-grade chemical that goes into the toothpaste. We take an industrial grade from a super-factory in Spain, near the Basque region.
Excuse me if I cannot pronounce it. It is hydroflurosilicic acid that goes into our water. This is not quite as straightforward as fluoride. I have left a graphic with my speech – which I am going to give to the ushers now – on the toothpaste packaging, for everyone to see. There is nothing like seeing is believing.
On fluoride, many people have said to me, “Mary-Ann, I have been brushing my teeth for years. I have been drinking water. I am fine, my children are fine”. However, it is a cumulative poison. I want to give the Minister of State an analogy. Think of tobacco. Think of the Minister of State and I having a cigarette tonight. We are not going to get lung cancer. We are going to have to smoke for a long time before it is going to have dreadful, devastating effects on our health. The Minister of State and I could have got a job in the shipyards in Belfast with the asbestos. We would not have died after three months but what about had we stayed there working as others did? After fifty years, deaths occurred. It is the same thing with fluoride.
Fluoride is a medicine. I tried to look at what levels of dosage we should take. One milligramme per hour? One milligramme every four hours or once a day? Drugs should be prescribed by body weight. We all know and understand that. Those who really are affected by the nationally prescribed drug, fluoride, are vulnerable young children, who are lighter in body weight. The Minister of State and I, if I can catch her attention for a moment, often come in here and talk about vulnerable babies. That is what I am here to talk about this evening. These are the people I really want her to think about. Never mind us old codgers and Senators. We have had our lives. These babies are lighter in body weight and drink three to four times more liquid than adults relative to their size. Therefore, they get three or four times more fluoride toxic effects. As they cannot excrete fluoride, 90% of it stays in their bodies. I am not quoting off the top of my head. Everything I am saying has been researched and can be backed-up. With one of the lowest breast-feeding rates in Europe, Irish mothers are feeding fluoridated water mixed with baby formula to our precious babies, their children.
Given hydroflurosicilic acid is an unlicensed and untested medicinal substance, this motion seeks to give back the human right to the Irish population to choose what drug each citizen does or does not take into their bodies. I urge all Senators to consider this. I am sorry that the Fianna Fáil political party meeting just started at 5 o’clock, because I want everyone to please put pressure on their colleagues and anyone else in a position of power to join the fight for Ireland’s health freedom for their citizens.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and I thank the Minister of State for coming in for this debate which I think will be very interesting and one that I have not heard debated here. It was debated before in this House but it was quite some time ago. I, like Senator O’Brien, do not remember a big debate about this in 1963. It must have been a very emotional time when it was being done. It is taking away the rights of every citizen to feed themselves with fresh water by ensuring there is something in that water. Having studied this issue for the last week or two, I am concerned when I order a glass of water. I am not sure whether I am drinking fluoridated water or not. As Senator O’Brien says, if it is tap water it will contain fluoride. I am not sure if the water in front of me is tap water. Neither can I always be sure if the water we buy in bottles comes from a well or a tap. I have 16 grandchildren and I know that my sons and daughters, who are concerned about the well-being of those children, are going to give much more thought to this in the future when it is brought to their attention.
The Sinn Féin amendment is interesting. Usually when an amendment is put before the House, it disagrees with the provision. Senator O’Brien’s motion is that Seanad Éireann notes the fundamental human right of every citizen to choose whether or not to have their water medicated with fluoride given that they are from 1 October paying for it. The Sinn Féin amendment seeks to delete all the words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following: “calls for the removal of fluoride from the public water system”. One is capable of being accepted as much as the other.
Senator O’Brien has spoken vividly about the figures around the world. I have done some work on that also. The motion is very important. It is a huge change for citizens that we now have to pay for our water. From a business perspective it is right that the citizen is given the opportunity to choose the type of product that they purchase. We do not have that choice. We purchase water but we do not have the option of non-fluoridated water. I do not want to go through the figures Senator O’Brien has given at length but it must be emphasised that most EU countries do not add fluoride to water. Some major and influential countries are not even allowing local authorities to make their own decision on fluoridation. Senator O’Brien mentioned the situation in Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden. They are among the countries who have banned fluoridation altogether. We only need to look north of the Border where there is no fluoridation. It is interesting to see Mr. Walter Graham here tonight. He was instrumental in playing a very large part in drawing the attention of various towns in the North to the issue to the extent that they no longer have fluoridation there.
Belgium went so far as to ban tablets and chewing gum that contain fluoride over fears that they might increase the risk of brittle bone disease. There does not appear to be any worldwide movement for countries to start to add fluoride to water supplies, the opposite is the case. Last August, Israel officially stopped adding fluoride to its water supply on the basis that it is medical treatment and people have the right to choose whether they want to be medicated. It is interesting to consider the country with the world’s largest population, China, does not add fluoride to its water supply. These are strong examples and it is very clear that what we are doing is completely out of the norm. Is Ireland right on the issue and the rest of Europe wrong? There is no fluoridation in Scotland, Wales and most of England. These other countries are not fluoridating their water on the basis of medical evidence.
There is also an ethical issue when it comes to medicating a water supply. There is a range of well documented side-effects linked to excessive fluoride use in the medical evidence. Senator O’Brien has dealt with some of those. I will not get involved in them but the most common is dental fluorosis which changes the appearance of teeth. In addition, various studies have pointed to lower intelligence levels in children, an increased incidence of bone cancer in teenage boys and increased risk of bone fractures and thyroid dysfunction. Senator O’Brien drew our attention to the tubes of toothpaste and the cartons of toothpaste for sale in America. The example provided says: “Warning: Keep out of reach of children under six years of age. If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing get medical help or contact a poison control centre immediately”. That is very interesting. What is particularly interesting is that it does not apply to toothpastes that do not contain fluoride. They do not have that warning. In America, it is necessary to have that health warning on every tube of toothpaste that contains fluoride. A new study published in one of the best known peer reviewed medical journals, The Lancet, now labels fluoride as a development neurotoxin which could cause damage to the brain. This is due to a link between high levels of fluoride exposure and reduced IQ in children, mostly in China. The study puts fluoride in the same category as substances such as arsenic, lead and mercury. There are a number of interesting articles on that.
I will deal briefly with two other points. Some 98% of the countries of Europe have rejected fluoridation. Why are we doing it? There is an international movement away from fluoridation. It is becoming redundant.
It has been rejected in countries and communities around the world and fluoride is a highly poisonous substance. Most people are unaware of how toxic it is. There is enough fluoride in a tube of toothpaste to kill a 12-year-old child. While Members have a great deal to do this regard and have a great deal to learn, this is the start of a debate and I hope the Minister of State will enlighten them in the time ahead, in order that they can make a decision on the subject.
- “that water fluoridation is not medicinal but the adjustment of the natural concentration of fluoride in drinking water to the recommended level for the prevention of dental caries (tooth decay);
- that water fluoridation is a safe and effective means of prevention of tooth decay;
- that there is no evidence that water fluoridation, at the recommended level, causes any ill effects to human health; but that fluoridation, and its effects on health and related matters, is kept under constant review.”.
I welcome the Minister of State the House. I also welcome this debate and it is important that Members bring up such matters for review on an ongoing basis and if there are new developments in this area, Members certainly should consider them. In the context of discussing the possibility of fluoridation causing problems, it is interesting to note that when the Act was passed in 1960, the average life expectancy in Ireland was then 69.69, whereas it is now 80.5.
No, but as risks to health are being raised, I refer to the progress that has been made in Ireland in respect of health and well-being. Progress has been made and the average life expectancy is now 80.5 years in real terms.
The constitutional issues are interesting and I have downloaded a copy of the case of Gladys Ryan v. the Attorney General. It was dealt with by Mr. Justice Kenny and then by the Supreme Court. Interestingly, Richie Ryan, who subsequently became Minister for Finance, acted as a solicitor for Gladys Ryan although he was not related to her. He assembled a quite strong legal team to deal with the matter in the High Court and Supreme Court. He had, as senior counsel, Seán MacBride, T.J. Connolly and Seamus Egan, that is, a strong legal team to fight this question concerning the constitutional provisions. It dealt with the Constitution under Articles 40.3, 41 and 42. The matter of the constitutional issues was clearly argued in both the High Court and the Supreme Court. I read an article containing an interview with Richie Ryan some years ago in which he raised the issue as to whether all the information was made available to the courts at the time. While he raises serious concerns from that point of view, this is the case law we now have.
A number of steps have been taken since 1963 and 1964, when the case was dealt with in the courts. There have been a number of reviews on the issue and a number of recommendations were produced in a report in 2002. Interestingly, the motion’s proposer raised the issue of fluoride and the danger to children. It is an important issue because one recommendation in the 2002 report pertained to infant formula and perhaps it is also a question of disseminating more information. The fifth recommendation of the aforementioned report stated that infant formula should continue to be reconstituted with boiled tap water in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions or that, alternatively, ready-to-feed formula could be used. The other part of the recommendation was that the use of bottled water to reconstitute infant formula was not recommended unless the labelling indicated its suitability for such use. I believe that report contained a total of 33 recommendations and the question is whether all of them were implemented fully and whether people are aware of them. I believe this certainly is an issue that should be revisited. If Members wish to consider this issue because other matters must be examined of which people must be made more aware, they certainly should do this. They should make people aware, in the public domain, as to what are the concerns.
The Irish Dental Association appears to be strongly in favour of fluoridation. In a statement it issued it noted that it:
strongly endorses water fluoridation as the most practical, cost effective and safe, public health measure to control the occurrence of tooth decay in Ireland. Community water fluoridation is endorsed by the World Health Organization … as the first choice method of providing fluoride to communities. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention … and the EU Scientific Committee on Health and Environment Risks … have also endorsed water fluoridation. The US Surgeon General described water fluoridation as one of the top ten greatest public health measures of the twentieth century.
I am quoting from the Irish Dental Association statement and while I do not suggest this is gospel, I note that association clearly is strongly in support of the current policy with regard to water fluoridation.
If I may, I will revert to the constitutional issue, as the Gladys Ryan v. the Attorney General case established a strong position with regard to bodily integrity. However, one aspect of Mr. Justice Kenny’s decision in the High Court held that there is no contractual right to a piped water supply. It stated:
- The plaintiff has no legal right to a supply of piped water and the Act of 1960 does not impose any obligation on her or on the members of her family to drink or use the water coming through the piped water supply … the plaintiff probably has a right of access to a supply of water, but this does not give her a right to a supply of water which has not been fluoridated through the piped water supply … I am satisfied that the plaintiff … can, by the expenditure of a few pounds, remove all or almost all the fluoride ions from the water coming through the piped water supply.
Members must deal with this debate in that context. I believe the constitutional issues have been dealt with. Members certainly must review and keep in mind constantly any developments that have occurred in recent years and make the public aware of them but I strongly support the amendment to this motion and ask my colleagues for their support on the matter.
I thank Senator Mary Ann O’Brien and Senator Feargal Quinn for giving Members an opportunity to speak on this issue. For me, the jury is out on this question and I have read a considerable amount on the subject in recent weeks. I do not like the thought of being forcibly medicated, any more than anyone else would, and I do not like the thought of anything being applied forcibly. While I cannot support the motion in its current form, nor can I support either of the amendments, including the Government amendment. The latter is the set-piece Government amendment and when Fianna Fáil was in government, such amendments were no different. It commends the Government, maintains the current position, will not change and all the rest of it.
This issue last was reviewed in 2002 and it is time to review it again. I desire that a review be undertaken on the effects of fluoridation, given the additional research that is available, of which there is quite a lot from the United States. In this context, Senator Mary Ann O’Brien may have mentioned many countries in Europe, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Sweden and Switzerland, to mention a few. I have known people from these countries and did not note they had any particular tooth decay issues. They were fine, healthy people and these countries clearly have taken a decision not to have fluoride applied to the public water system for a reason. There are clear concerns about it, as fluoride is poisonous, as has been outlined in respect of toothpaste and processed foods. Even before one comes to treated drinking water or toothpaste, children could be taking in much more fluoride than is safe in a general sense. A huge number of studies link it to quite a number of different diseases and there is a body of scientific research that supports this view.
From what I have read in recent days, we are not talking about a bunch of crazies who have a vested interest in getting this. Equally, I do not think the State believes it is doing harm by keeping it in there, but it warrants a review. It is something that comes up frequently. Some friends of mine will only have bottled water and will try to ensure their children do not have access to fluoride.
The reasons for Senator Mary Ann O’Brien tabling the motion are absolutely sound. I read her very good article in today’s Irish Independent. I also read the comments that people added online. An interesting broad church of people gave their responses to it. We certainly could do worse than have a review at this time given that it is 12 years since the last one when we decided to continue with the policy. It would be timely to review it again and the Minister of State would be doing us all a favour by answering that this evening – there might be no need for a vote.
Some of the information highlighted to me on the effects of fluoridation of water is indeed frightening. It was clearly a 1950s solution and approach to a particular issue which is outdated. We have all taken on board our responsibilities in the context of dental health. I do not believe it is impossible for us to continue to be dentally healthy as a nation if we opted to change the policy. I accept we do not want to scaremonger and say we are all going to die. Senator Mary Ann O’Brien made the point about it being the cumulative impact of this over a long period. There may be links to some of these illnesses and perhaps if we took it out and monitored it over a ten-year period, we might see some results.
Our starting point should not be that fluoridation is the bees’ knees and we will continue with it. The approach ought to be that policies need to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. It has been 12 years since the last review, other research is available and there are fears out there. At an absolute minimum, even if we were to continue with the policy, we should reassure people why we are doing that and we should outline the levels of fluoride in water, why it is there and how it is possible to avoid intake of it by avoiding fluoridated drinking water. People are entitled to know that and the nation should inform people about the level of fluoridation in the water so that if they feel they do not want themselves or their children exposed to it, they must get other forms of water for drinking, brushing teeth and so on
We should have tabled an amendment but were not quick enough. If we had tabled an amendment, it would have called for a review and that ought to be done. I do not want to delay the House. I thank Senator Mary Ann O’Brien for her very informative article in today’s newspaper. It certainly gave me new information that I did not have in addition to other information that was given to me. According to my documentation 97% – Senator Mary Ann O’Brien mentioned 98% – of people in Europe clearly have concerns and they are not crazies so let us have a look at the most up-to-date research on the issue with an open mind and be flexible on what we might do following a review. I know where Senator Mary Ann O’Brien is coming from, but I do not think it is possible that we could all have an individual choice because of water supply – John next door cannot have it if I do not want it. Maybe we could look at that.
I am not convinced that I want it completely removed from the water system. I have major concerns as an individual with young children. The Minister of State would be best advised to conduct a review at an absolute minimum among the staff at her Department. I am sure there is no additional cost for that – people are being paid in the usual way as members of staff. Perhaps she could report back to us in a month or two with the results of that review and we could consider the issue again.
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):
I thank the previous speaker for the suggestion, but I think from the content of my speech the Senator will realise that the issue of fluoridation is under continual review. I thank Senator Mary Ann O’Brien for tabling the motion and I acknowledge that some Senators have a particular interest in it. Unlike others, I have been listening to the debate about fluoridation all my life. My father had a particular interest in it, as did my father-in-law after that, so it is a debate I have been listening to for many years.
I acknowledge and thank the Senators for holding this debate. I commend everyone who contributed. I know others are yet to contribute, but I have to leave early. The Government will not support the motion in its current form, but the Government has proposed an amendment that provides for the continuing review of this important issue of public interest and concern. I commend the Government amendment before the House and I hope everyone has read it.
Water fluoridation is the adjustment of the natural concentration of fluoride in drinking water to the recommended level for the prevention of tooth decay. Fluoride is a natural mineral used by the body to strengthen teeth and bones. Fluoride occurs naturally in all water supplies at different levels and is found in soil, fresh water, seawater, plants and many foods. As the Senator pointed out, fluoridation began in Ireland in 1964 on foot of the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960. The Act and the Fluoridation of Water Supplies Regulations 2007 provide for the making of arrangements by the HSE for the fluoridation of public water supplies. The local authorities, acting on behalf of Irish Water, act as agents for the HSE in providing, installing and maintaining equipment for fluoridation and in adding the fluoride to water and in testing the fluoride content of water to which fluoride has been added.
In Ireland, naturally occurring levels of fluoride tend to be so low that they do not provide sufficient dental benefits. However, there are exceptions. Among the evidence presented to the Oireachtas prior to the introduction of fluoridation 50 years ago was the discovery that the public water supply serving the village of Patrickswell, County Limerick, had a fluoride content of around 0.7 to 1 parts per million. No other water supply in the city or county of Limerick was found to contain fluoride to that significant effect. The then Medical Research Council of Ireland carried out a special examination of children attending Patrickswell national school. It found that the teeth of the children who had been using the naturally fluoridated water supply in that village since birth or the greater part of their lives had less dental decay than the other children attending schools in the rest of the city and county of Limerick.
Artificial water fluoridation replicates a natural benefit by making good a fluoride deficiency in some water supplies. The benefits to oral health brought about by fluoridation have been experienced all over the world. It is hardly surprising that water fluoridation is recognised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Public Health Service as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. As Senator Colm Burke has already outlined, in the case of Ryan v. Attorney General in 1964, the Supreme Court did not accept that the fluoridation of water was, or could be described as, the mass medication or mass administration of drugs through water, as suggested by the Senators.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority is the competent authority for the licensing of human and veterinary medicines and medical devices in Ireland. The HPRA considers that neither drinking water itself nor the fluoride added to drinking water in the form of fluoride salts or silica fluoride, as defined in the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960, should be categorised as medicinal products. The HPRA considers that the fluoridation of drinking water should be seen as a measure consistent with general public health management. Fluoridation can be likened to adding vitamin D to milk or folic acid to cereals. More than 370 million people worldwide receive the benefits of water fluoridation. All EU states have fluoride, in one form or another, at the centre of their public policy approach.