WITH at least one north coast council set to risk children’s health by banning fluoride from drinking water, the O’Farrell government responded yesterday the best way it knows how – announcing another review.
Lismore Council has become the biggest council in NSW to vote to ban the fluoridation of their water supply and Ballina Shire Council will today debate whether to do the same.’
A rescission motion lodged with Lismore council by three councillors on Tuesday evening means councillors may yet overturn last week’s 6-4 decision.
But the decision has brought attention to the fact that under a law passed in 1957, it is councils in charge of fluoride in each water supply – despite the fact 96 per cent of the state’s water is fluoridated amid medical consensus on its benefits.
The Opposition’s health spokesman, Andrew McDonald, a hospital paediatrian, said yesterday he would personally move a private member’s Bill to put the state in charge of drinking water supplies and claimed “flat earth” activists were getting their way.
But the Health Minister Jillian Skinner, despite saying there was “absolutely no doubt” about the benefit to health of fluoridating water said she would ask NSW Health to “prepare a discussion paper on whether the state government should take over responsibility regarding the fluoridation of water”.
“NSW Health will engage Local Government NSW in the process of preparing the discussion paper. Public comment will be invited,” Ms Skinner said.
“I have absolutely no doubt about the value of fluoride in our water supply, given the clear evidence of its benefit in oral health.
“What many people do not realise is the great potential for poor oral health to impact adversely on general health.
“Fluoridated water benefits not only the individual but society as a whole by reducing the burden associated with avoidable disease.”
The O’Farrell government’s caution is compounded by the fact the Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, made comments four years ago at a forum in Wauchope defending the right of councils to decide whether or not water should be fluoridated and saying it should not be a matter for state bureaucrats.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Stoner said: “The NSW Government is committed to the promotion of water fluoridation as a public health measure in preventing tooth decay, however the responsibility for water fluoridation currently rests with local government authorities.
“Mr Stoner’s comment in 2009 were consistent with these arrangements.”
But Dr McDonald said that: “a discussion paper on this issue which is identified as one of the 10 greatest advances in medicine in the 20th Century” was a complete failure of government.
“This is not a discussion paper, this is an attempt to kick the ball in the long grass so they don’t have to do anything,” Dr McDonald said.
“Quite frankly, there’s no excuse not to [act]. This is a highly effective very effective [anti-fluoridation] pressure group against fluoridation. They will always be more effective in bullying local councillors.
“These young people are going to need their teeth for 80 years. There’s no scientific evidence for any damage from fluoridation in drinking water.”
Ms Skinner has already come under fire for her slow pace in responding to “No jab, no play” calls recently – with the opposition trumping her on that issue- before finally agreeing to allow childcare centres to ban children who were not vaccinated.
Lismore councillors who supported the ban have come up with excuses from that it was about “landowners’ rights” to that “there are very significant health impacts that we’re not fully aware of”.
A NSW Health spokesman said that years of comprehensive scientific studies and population health surveys showed the benefits of fluoride in minute doses, and the consequences for towns without access to it.
“There is strong evidence fluoridation offers substantial community benefit through protection against dental caries (cavities) and no evidence of harm to individuals,” he said.
“Therefore the evidence is in favour of fluoridation.”