Wellington will be the next major target for anti-fluoridation campaigners after their controversial triumph in Hamilton.
With Hamilton City Council voting on Wednesday to remove fluoride from the city’s water, what seems like an eternal debate has been reignited.
Anti-fluoride campaigner Mark Atkin said Wellington might not be the next city to go fluoride-free, but it was a key target.
“There are campaigns going on elsewhere in the country, but Wellington has to be the focus,” he said. “Attitudes are certainly changing. Hastings and Whakatane are having referendums at the next local body elections.”
Dentists and public health experts have expressed alarm at Hamilton’s decision, arguing that peer-reviewed evidence points overwhelmingly to fluoride being safe at correct levels and significantly reducing tooth decay.
Dental Society vice-president Sathananthan Kanagaratnam yesterday said: “Water fluoridation is the single most effective, practical and safe means of reducing and controlling the amount and severity of dental decay in a community. It is not just children who suffer dental decay; adults will continue to lose more teeth and suffer from poorer oral health if fluoride is removed.”
University of Otago senior lecturer in preventive and restorative dentistry Jonathan Broadbent said: “Those who are unwilling to drink fluoridated water should not be permitted to impose the risks, damage, and costs of failure to fluoridate on others.”
Greater Wellington Regional Council spends about $185,000 a year adding fluoride to city water. It voted on fluoridation last week, deciding seven to five in favour of continuing.
“It was a lot closer than it has been in the past,” Mr Atkin said.
However, Wellington, Porirua and Hutt City were “entrenched” with fluoride supporters and would be hard to influence, he believed. Upper Hutt City Council had “floating voters” who could move to the anti-fluoride party.
Pressure on councils was more likely to succeed than a referendum campaign, he said, because the anti-fluoride movement could not compete with public health budgets.
Anti-fluoride groups presented a petition to the Wellington City Council last month, during draft annual plan submissions.
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said she recognised concerns, but it was a national health issue and councils did not have the expertise to decide on it.
Council water portfolio leader Ngaire Best said it took advice from the Ministry of Health. Investigations in the last year from both the ministry and the Royal Society had found no new evidence that fluoridation was harmful at current levels, she said.
Porirua City Council spokeswoman Moana Wyatt said it followed the regional council policy on water. If the regional council changed its policy, the city council would reconsider.
Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said his council had heard submissions from anti-fluoride campaigners during its draft annual plan process. While a final response had not been made, he expected the council would keep adding fluoride to its water supply. “It’s my belief that we are doing the best for our community.”
Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said there was “no mood or move for change”. It took its lead from national health authorities.
Within the Kapiti Coast district, fluoride is added to drinking water supplied to Raumati, Paraparaumu and Waikanae, but not to Otaki or Paekakariki. Kapiti Coast District Council is lobbying for health authorities to take responsibility for deciding on the use of fluoride.
Mayor Jenny Rowan said: “We support calls by Local Government New Zealand to make health authorities, not local councils, responsible.”
A Waikato Times poll published today in response to the Hamilton decision showed 61 per cent of readers wanted fluoridation, with only 24 per cent against it.
FOR AND AGAINST
It is proven to reduce tooth decay. There are no proven health risks at levels used. The 2009 Ministry of Health oral health survey suggested children, adolescents and adults living in fluoridated areas had less decay than those in non-fluoridated areas. There was no significant difference in rates of dental fluorosis (marking of the teeth from exposure to excessive fluoride) between fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.
It causes dental fluorosis, increased rates of cancer, premature birth, kidney problems, heart disease, low IQ, bone problems, thyroid damage and other health issues. The small benefit to dental health does not outweigh the risk.
WHAT IS FLUORIDE?
Fluorides are mineral compounds of the element fluorine. One compound, sodium fluoride, occurs naturally in water. It can be used in pesticides and aluminium production.
In the 1930s, researchers in the United States found a link between sodium fluoride and resistance to tooth decay.
At levels between 0.7 parts per million and 1.2 parts per million, teeth are strengthened without producing dental fluorosis, which causes stained enamel. In high concentrations, sodium fluoride is harmful. A lethal dose for humans is about 5 to 10 grams.
New Zealand was the second country to fluoridate water, in 1954, after the US.
Twenty-two councils add fluoride to their water, including Wellington City, Porirua, Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt and parts of the Kapiti Coast.