Fluoride could be added to the drinking water of another 13 million people by next summer under plans by Ministers to supply major cities with the chemical.
A new amendment to forthcoming legislation will force water companies to add fluoride to water supplies, smoothing the way for the largest extension of fluoridation for almost 50 years. Opponents have condemned the moves, accusing Ministers of mass medication by stealth and a ‘nanny state’ mentality.
They also claim fluoride has been linked to adverse health affects including cancer, brittle bones and thyroid disease and can cause teeth to mottle.
The Government, however, views its introduction as a way of cutting high rates of tooth decay among youngsters in deprived neighbourhoods. So far 11 per cent of the population – six million people – have fluoride added to their water, mainly in the Midlands. The British Fluoridation Society, a group representing pro-fluoride dentists, said discussions with the Government had indicated a third of the population of England and Wales, just over 19 million, should be supplied with the substance.
Areas identified include central London, greater Manchester, the West Yorkshire conurbation, Cardiff and Southampton.
The Government’s amendment – inserted quietly into the Water Bill last month – will wrest control away from the water companies who have traditionally presided over the decision whether to add fluoride to drinking water. In the past, they have turned down scores of requests, fearing legal action from campaign groups. Instead, responsibility will be transferred to the strategic health authorities of England and Wales.
Next week the Bill will be read before Parliament. Ministers and fluoride supporters are confident it will be law by Christmas. From then, strategic health authorities will be encouraged to consider its mass introduction.
A spokesman for the Department of Health confirmed yesterday it would be asking officials to ‘consider fluoridating their water as part of their overall oral health strategy’.
France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Holland have all rejected mass water fluoridation. The Belgian government last year even outlawed the sale of fluoride tablets and chewing gum, as concerns over its safety persist. The campaigning National Pure Water Association describes fluoride as a pollutant.
Jane Jones, director of the group and former psychiatric nurse, condemned the amendment as a pernicious attempt to railroad the substance upon an unwelcoming population. She warns that fluoridation indiscriminately raises exposure of people who may already have high levels through toothpaste and diet.
However, supporters claim the substance is unequivocally safe, citing the lack of evidence of adverse health affects that have been recorded amid millions of regular users.
‘There is no evidence of any harm. Fluoride is completely safe,’ said Sheila Jones of the British Fluoridation Society. Advocates also point to research revealing that children’s teeth are three times healthier in and around Birmingham where fluoride is used compared to Manchester where it is not.
The Government’s Medical Research Council is examining all existing research on the use of fluoride in drinking water. A report is due in the next month. An earlier inquiry by the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York found no evidence of adverse health impacts, but concluded there had not been enough randomised controlled trials into the effects of water fluoridation.