City councillors have ruled out a city-wide referendum on fluoridated water supplies in Dunedin, even as new evidence supports the chemical’s continued use.
University of Otago School of Dentistry Professor Murray Thomson, in an open letter to councillors, said new information showed the use of general anaesthetic during dental procedures was greater in areas without fluoridated water supplies.
In Mosgiel, which was largely without fluoridated water supply, one child in every 24 aged under 6 needed general anaesthetic during tooth extraction or other dental procedures, compared to one child in 88 in Dunedin, which received fluoridated water, he said.
The letter, dated October 29, was sent to every councillor and presented by Cr Michael Guest during an at-times heated debate at yesterday’s Dunedin City Council meeting.
Councillors had been asked to consider how best to proceed with public consultation on the council’s contentious fluoride policy, following earlier decisions made by the council’s infrastructure services committee.
The chemical, which is added to drinking water to prevent tooth decay, is already supplied to 85% of Dunedin households, while the remaining 15% – mainly in outlying townships but also including 80% of Mosgiel – do not receive it.
Options being considered yesterday included city-wide consultation on fluoridated water through a referendum or next year’s long-term council community plan (LTCCP) hearings, or more targeted consultation focusing on individual communities.
However, the recommendations were brushed aside by a new amendment put by Cr Syd Brown yesterday, which maintained the existing split between fluoridated and unfluoridated supplies while promising consultation with individual communities before any supply changes were undertaken.
That won the support of most councillors, but Crs Fliss Butcher, Paul Hudson and Andrew Noone voted against the amendment’s three measures, along with Cr Dave Cull, who voted against one of them.
There were also angry exchanges when Public Health South medical officer of health Dr Marion Poole asked for permission to address councillors on the benefits of fluoride.
Cr Butcher had questioned Dr Poole’s right to speak, which was defended by Cr Guest.
After several testy exchanges and points of order, Mayor Peter Chin was moved to warn Cr Guest to “control yourself”.
Members of a small public gallery also made several attempts to interject during yesterday’s proceedings, without success.
Eventually allowed to speak following a vote, Dr Poole said evidence showed fluoridation had reduced tooth decay by 15%, with benefits for all age groups but particularly for children.
The policy had “unequivocal backing” from the Ministry of Health, Otago District Health Board and other professional associations, Dr Poole told the council.
“The gains that have been made must be protected and the opportunity to improve the health outcomes for other communities should be taken whenever possible,” she said.
A last-minute attempt by Cr Hudson yesterday to find support for a city-wide referendum, to be held in June 2009, was referred back to the infrastructure services committee by Mr Chin.
Speaking after yesterday’s meeting, Fluoride Action Network representative Olive McRae, of Waitati – who would not say how many Dunedin members her organisation had – said she was “disappointed” at the outcome.
“It’s unfortunate the council had decided not to consult with Dunedin [residents] on such an important issue as this,” she said.