A city councillor accused of auditioning for The Hobbit and evidence delivered, via Skype, from the United States were among unusual features of a debate on fluoridation.
City councillors last week rejected a plea from the Fluoride Action Network to review the use of fluoride in local water supply.
Five councillors – Max Shierlaw, Roger Styles, Lisa Bridson, Gwen McDonald and Margaret Willard – supported a public referendum but the majority supported the continued use of fluoride.
Opponents demonstrated in front of the council chamber and fronted the meeting with banners opposing “mass medication”, featuring skulls and crossbones. Mayor Wallace agreed to allow anti-fluoride campaigner Jade Tuckwell to film the meeting but a number of others attempting to take pictures were told to stop.
A range of doctors and administrators from the Ministry of Health and Hutt Valley District Health Board argued that fluoride was the best way to promote dental health, particularly of the most vulnerable – Maori and Polynesians.
Hutt Valley Health clinical director of community dental services Neil Stephen said it “saddens” him that so many children have poor dental health and that it is Taita/ Pomare and Wainuiomata, with significant populations of Maori and Polynesians, that have the worst dental health statistics. Taking fluoride out of the water would only make the situation worse for the most vulnerable, he said.
School Dental Services manager Bridget Allan said resources in the health sector are already stretched. Without fluoride, the service will have to treat more children and to do so will have to take already scarce resources for treating diabetes, looking after the elderly, or hip replacements.
Hutt Valley Health chief executive Graham Dyer said that as the father of a four- year-old, he is pleased to live somewhere where fluoride is available.
Presenting evidence from the United States via Skype, medical officer of health Stephen Palmer began updating the position in the US before being cut off and told his one minute was up.
The Anti Fluoride Network initially indicated it had “35-plus” speakers but agreed to put up fewer and to show a video from New Plymouth GP, Peter Scanlon.
The speakers linked fluoride to a range of health problems, including thyroid disease, cancer, fluorosis of the teeth and Alzheimer’s.
Network spokesman Mark Atkin said the council appeared to accept the view that fluoride is the best way to help the poor. He claimed that view is based on the evidence of dentists, with no scientific background. Fluoride leads to an increase in premature birth rates and infant mortality, he said.
Mary Bryne particularly objected to comments made by Cr Ross Jamieson that he favoured fluoride because dentist friends told him it worked well.
“I wonder if you asked your taxi driver.”
Cr Chris Milne questioned the credibility of Dr Scanlon, who featured in a tape played by the network opposing fluoride, and noted he also campaigned against 1080 and vaccinations. Mrs Bryne said that was not relevant and people in the network held a wide range of political views.
Throughout the meeting, Cr Max Shierlaw asked questions and was frequently told to get to the point.
Eventually Mayor Wallace warned him to stop playing to the camera.
“You are not auditioning for Peter Jackson’s next edition of The Hobbit.”
It took two hours to hear submitters and Mayor Wallace thanked all those who made a submission.
“There have been many passionate expressions of support for both sides of the fluoride debate,” he said.
Fluoride Action Network says Hutt City Council’s rejection of holding a referendum of fluoridation – and to “force medication on its population without consultation” – continues an attitude it became famous for 50 years earlier.
In 1963, Mayor Percy Dowse made it his “personal crusade” to introduce fluoridation of water, refusing to consult with the Ratepayers’ Association. He was spurred on by councillor (later Mayor) John Kennedy-Good, a dentist. The matter went all the way to the Privy Council.
“Almost 50 years later, and councillors still haven’t learned to respect those who elect them,” Mary Byrne, of FAN says.