Napier’s “unadulterated” water supply could be fluoridated in the not-too-distant future, in a change likely to cause fierce debate.
Though Hastings, just 20 minutes away, was the first city in the county to have fluoride added to its water supply in 1954, Napier never followed suit.
But that could change. Today, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced they would be introducing a bill to parliament later this year that will give district health boards – rather than local authorities – the power to decide which community water supplies are fluoridated.
The Hawke’s Bay District Health Board’s position on fluoridation is well-documented. It campaigned strongly for fluoride to be retained during the referendum held on the issue in Hastings in 2013, in which 63% of the people who voted wanted fluoridation of that city’s water supply to continue.
Napier mayor Bill Dalton said he believed that, if the proposed legislation was passed, the HBDHB would also move to fluoridate Napier’s water supply.
“That would be my expectation, yes,” said Dalton, who had mixed feeling about the proposed changes.
“My view is that of the government wants a unified decision across the country, the DHBs are the people to do it.
“My own personal view is that I’ve always prided myself on the fact that Napier has a completely unadulterated water supply – we don’t put chlorine in it, we don’t put anything in it. It’s one of the few places in the county that has got a completely natural, pure water supply.”
In Hastings, the council spent $30,000 after the referendum installing two non-fluoridated bottle filling stations to appease anti-fluoride campaigners.
Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule, in his role as president of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), welcomed today’s move by the government to transfer decision-making about the ‘divisive’ issue of fluoridation to DHBs.
“The decision to fluoridate is a health decision. Assessing claims about the value of fluoride and its potential harm falls outside the expertise and experience of local authorities,” says Mr Yule.
The LGNZ said fluoridation issues have always been strongly divisive in communities and as a result, councils have been forced to make judgements about the validity, or otherwise, of complex scientific research.
“In recent years, many councils have had their decisions to fluoridate water supplies challenged in court, creating unnecessary costs for ratepayers and uncertainty for the councils themselves,”
“The decision removes the costs and risks of litigation for ratepayers and councils, and ensures that future fluoridation decisions will be based on medical evidence of the benefits,” Yule said.
IN announcing the proposed changes, health minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said New Zealand had high rates of preventable tooth decay and increasing access to fluoridated water would improve oral health for 1.4 million Kiwis who lived where water supplies were not currently fluoridated.
“Water fluoridation has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and other international health authorities as the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.”
He said it made sense to transfer the decision making to DHBs, as they provided the expert advice to local authorities on fluoridation.
“Deciding which water supplies should be fluoridated aligns closely to DHBs’ current responsibilities and expertise. It makes sense for DHBs to make fluoridation decisions for their communities based on local health priorities and by assessing health-related evidence.”
A Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament later this year. Members of the public and organisations will have an opportunity to make submissions to the Health Select Committee as it considers the bill.
Hawke’s Bay District Health Board signals change
Hawke’s Bay District Health Board’s clinical director of oral health Dr Robin Whyman said he was very pleased with the decision.
“The district health board strongly supports water fluoridation, as it is the single most cost effective public health measure there is to prevent dental decay.
While the legislation still has to be passed we will now be working to look again at the oral health of our population in Hawke’s Bay, so we can work out where the introduction of fluoride to a community water supply will make the greatest difference to overall oral health, “ Dr Whyman said.