RESIDENTS of Gunnedah Shire could again be asked whether they want fluoride in town water supplies following a decision by Gunnedah Shire Council to seek government funding.
Council has voted to seek funding from the NSW Department of Public Health to investigate the installation of fluoride in the water supply and look at the costs involved.
Council would also use the funding for a community education program about the advantages and disadvantages of fluoridation and to measure community support through a survey.
The issue of adding fluoride to the town’s water has raised its head a number of times. A survey of 440 households carried out by the Western Research Institute in 2009 found 50 per cent of respondents were in favour of fluoridation.
Of the remainder, 29 per cent were against fluoridation and 21 per cent were undecided.
The report noted that only 76 per cent of the respondents were actually connected to the public water supply.
Chairman of council’s Works and Services Committee Stephen Smith said this was a tentative step in putting fluoride back up for discussion.
“We would certainly have to go into it a little bit more,” Cr Smith said.
“Our water supply is one of the purest you can get the way it is.”
Hunter New England Local Health District’s director of health protection, Professor David Durrheim, said fluoroidation was beneficial for dental health.
“The NSW government supports the expansion of drinking water fluoridation in NSW as an effective, efficient, socially equitable and safe population approach to the prevention of tooth decay,” Professor Durrheim said.
Gunnedah dentist Dr Michael Jonas agreed.
“I am in favour of fluoridation,” Dr Jonas said.
“It is a policy of the Australian Dental Association to support fluoridation of water systems right throughout Australia.
“That is supported by the Department of Health.”
Dr Jonas said research and statistics showed there were “significant benefits” gained by adding fluoride to water.
“Basically, it is a public health initiative,” he said.
“There is incredibly good science behind this. The data is impeccable.
“One of the biggest admissions for outpatients in Australia is for dental pain. That can be decreased and the incredible cost on the public health system can be dropped as well.”
A report to council noted a recent presentation to council reflected “NSW Health’s desire to have fluoride added to all NSW town water supplies to improve dental health throughout the state”.
The Works and Services Committee report said there were still concerns about figures quoting 82 per cent of all NSW communities supported water fluoridation.
“It is difficult to make such an important decision without all the facts and information regarding advantages and disadvantages,” the report said.
“Given the persistence of the NSW Department of Health to have fluoride added to the Gunnedah Shire water supplies, it is proposed council seek funding from NSW Health to engage a reputable consultant…”
Council proposed the consultant would look at locations for equipment to allow flouridation in the Gunnedah, Curlewis, Mullaley and Tambar Springs water supplies.
The consultant would also investigate costs, monitoring requirements and all advantages and disadvantages.
After this was completed, council proposes a period of community consultation to educate the community and then a random survey be conducted. This would include at least 25 per cent of ratepayers who were connected to the Gunnedah Shire town water supplies – about 1000 responses.
Gunnedah considered fluoridation in 2009 while it was introducing automatic chlorination to the water supply.
“The project was commissioned in 2009,” the report said.
“It was expected there would be some backlash from customers regarding smell and taste issues following the commencement of the chlorine dosing system, however whilst there were a few concerns raised by the community at the time, these were dealt with individually and there have been very few complaints of late.”
Following the installation in 2009, the decision was put on hold for 12 months and council noted it would seek a “much higher community support” before any further action was taken.
The recent committee report noted the NSW Deparment of Health was still offering a full subsidy of installation costs for fluoridation, but ongoing costs would be the responsibility of council.