South Canterbury mayors are calling for central government to take responsibility for the controversial issue of water fluoridation.
The Mackenzie and Waimate district mayors have presented a united front to back calls by Timaru District Mayor Damon Odey for the issue to be decided by central government rather than local councils.
The polarising issue was thrust back into the spotlight after the South Canterbury District Health Board’s (SCDHB) community and public health committee voted to recommend a position statement supporting fluoridation to the full board.
That decision prompted Timaru dentist Mark Goodhew to urge the Timaru District Council to re-examine the proposal, saying fluoride was the most cost-effective way to improve the district’s poor oral health.
Waimate District Mayor Craig Rowley said his council had no position on fluoride as it had not been formally discussed at a council level.
There were no plans to look into the issue at a council level, but he agreed with Odey that it should be a central government decision.
Mackenzie District Mayor Claire Barlow shared that view.
“It’s not a local government issue,” he said.
The possibility of fluoridating water supplies had not been raised with her council, she said.
Outside the councils, sometimes heated debate has been reignited by the issue’s resurfacing.
Dozens of people have contacted Stuff to voice their opinions on the issue, with the majority opposed to reintroducing fluoride to community water supplies.
For Deborah McDougall, fluoridation would be “a giant step backwards” for Timaru.
“People have to be responsible for what their young children put in their mouths.
“Why should we have fluoride added for people making wrong choices.”
Liz Townshend described fluoride as “a poison”.
“We do not need this poison in our bodies and we should have the right to dispute the introduction of it.”
Paula Gregory believed that it would be wiser to educate parents about dental hygiene and the amount of sugar in fizzy and fruit drinks.
“I do not want to ingest poison into my system as a mass medication. Surely we have the right to choose.
“Supplying free fluoride pills to those who wish to have this option would be far better.”
On the other side of the debate, Paul Clark said it was a mistake to not add fluoride to the water supply many years ago.
“Efforts to reduce the volume of sugar in some foods and fizzy drinks would also help reduce the appalling rate of dental disease in this area and nationally.”
The prospect of fluoridating the water supply was also backed by Ann Stuart, who questioned how the council was able to make a decision about the issue when it had not been debated or discussed in recent years.
Fluoride, considered by opponents to be a dangerous waste product and by proponents as a natural trace mineral, was taken out of Timaru’s water supply in 1985.
While the decision to fluoridate water supplies currently lay with local councils, Timaru Mayor Damon Odey believed central government needed to “front up” and take responsibility for the issue.
Odey said the council’s position was that it was a health issue, and should be dealt with by central government.
“We’re sick of them putting pressure on councils without the experience and understanding of the issue.”
With the DHB expected to back the use of fluoride in water supplies, dentist Mark Goodhew was hoping the issue would be back on the table.
He could understand why some people believed consuming fluoridated water should be a personal choice, but he did not support that position.
The Ministry of Health recommended between 0.7 parts per million and 1.0 ppm of fluoride as a safe, effective, and efficient way of preventing dental caries in communities receiving a reticulated water supply.