STORMONT Health Minister, Angela Smith, is at the centre of a row over claims fluoridation could be reintroduced in Ulster.
Environmentalists and consumer groups, who argue that fluoridated water has links to cancer, Down’s syndrome, and brittle bones, have accused the Government of having a “hidden agenda” on the controversy.
Fluoridation was abandoned here, in 1996, and has subsequently been blocked in a number of European countries, as well as 50 US cities.
But campaigners say alarm bells should now be ringing, after the introduction of a Parliamentary amendment to the Water Bill, to give its implementation an easier ride in England and Wales.
The amendment will shift the responsibility for treating water to local health authorities, and campaigners say such bodies are more likely to agree to fluoridation.
In a recent Commons reply, Ms Smith told East Belfast MP, Peter Robinson, that her department had “no current plans to apply for a fluoridation scheme in Northern Ireland”.
But Downpatrick-based ‘pure water’ activist, Walter Graham, said: “With the Assembly suspended, the Government will be able to bring in fluoridation here through the back door.
“I think the intention is to introduce it on a wide scale, in the UK.
“To medicate the whole population against its will, is hardly the way to deal with tooth decay.
“But I have no doubt the minister, the health boards, and the dental profession want to impose it on us again.”
Mr Graham, who has already written to Ms Smith, asking for clarification of her statement, added: “The chemical addition to fluoride is poisonous, and in many cities in the US, even toothpaste carries a health warning.
“In the Republic, where fluoridation has been introduced, we’re now seeing evidence of dental fluorosis (a mottling of the teeth).
“It would be a backward and irresponsible step to reintroduce it here, in Northern Ireland.”
Recent research, in England, has revealed children’s teeth were three times healthier in and around Birmingham, where tap water has been fluoridated for nearly 40 years, than in Manchester, where it is not.
A Department of Health spokesman at Stormont said: “The minister has already said there are no current plans for fluoridation in Northern Ireland, and there is no change to that position.”