The Hamilton City Council has been blasted by a senior Cabinet minister for its “absolutely gutless” decision to dump fluoride from the city water supply.
Justice Minister Judith Collins – a former Waikato resident – launched a stinging reprimand of the decision this week to stop fluoridation, describing a council plea for central government to take responsibility of the issue as a “total cop-out”.
After voting 7 to 1 to end the practice of adding fluoride to water on Wednesday, Mayor Julie Hardaker said council would be writing to Health Minister Tony Ryall, asking the Government to make the decision on the matter.
However, their request is likely to be given scant attention by the country’s lawmakers. Ms Hardaker was last night standing behind her and her council’s actions to appeal to the Government.
“It was a decision as part of the decision the other day that a letter would be sent to the Ministry of Health and part of that letter would be that we would regard the fluoridation of water as a central government issue,” Ms Hardaker said.
“The reason that council resolved that was that fluoride is about delivering health services and that’s the position that the ministry and the district health board take.
“The point our council was making is that these issues are health issues and should be dealt with by Government.”
But Ms Collins, who said she was brought up drinking fluoride-free water in rural Waikato, described the decision as “absolutely gutless”.
“It [the council] didn’t just ask for central government to make a decision, it made a stupid decision, which I think the council will find the people of Hamilton will revisit for them in October.”
She described the decision as “bollocks” and was scathing of the three councillors who abstained because of a perceived conflict of interest.
Martin Gallagher, Ewan Wilson and Pippa Mahood all withdrew from the vote after declaring a conflict with their district health board roles.
“You don’t elect people to sit on the fence. You elect them to make decisions, and you elect them to make reasonable and sensible decisions,” Ms Collins said.
Ms Hardaker was unrepentant in the face of Ms Collins’ attack.
“My council and I have sat through four days of what I would regard as a very, very good process, listening to and receiving info, evidence, data, statistics, expert advice from both sides of this debate.”
Neither Mr Ryall nor Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia was available for comment yesterday, but the Ministry of Health made no secret of its disappointment.
Dr Pat Tuohy, chief adviser for child and youth health, said the evidence was “pretty compelling” for fluoride but he reiterated any decisions on the matter were best made by the public.
“It is a decision that local ratepayers are entitled to consider and at the end of the day the councils are responsible for the management and provision of safe drinking water for the population.”
The decision this week overturned a council referendum in 2006 in which 70 per cent of respondents supported the use of fluoride.
Dr Tuohy said the issue of fluoride was no different from chlorination to remove germs or to keep pH levels right.
The council’s plan to appeal to the Government received little support among politicians and health bureaucrats spoken to by the Waikato Times.
Adding fluoride to the public water supply will cease by June 21, when stocks run out.