Plans to add fluoride to East Yorkshire’s water supply have taken a major step forward after they were given the backing of Labour politicians at Hull City Council, the Mail can reveal.
Labour councillors voted by “a substantial majority”, according to sources, to press ahead with controversial plans which could see Hull and parts of Holderness’s water supply fluoridated to reduce the number of children with tooth decay.
Now, senior officials at the city council are consulting their counterparts at East Riding Council after a feasibility study showed the water course runs through towns in the East Riding including Hornsea, Withernsea and some of the west Hull villages although Beverley will be unaffected.
Councillor Colin Inglis, chairman of Hull Health and Wellbeing Board, said fluoridating the water supply will be the biggest single action taken by the city council to improve public health.
He said: “Our public health clinicians and officers are saying this is the one thing we can do that will have the most impact on public health in Hull.
“It is the most impactful action we could take and there is categorically no risk to health from fluoridating water from one part per million.”
More than 43 per cent of children aged five in Hull have fillings and tooth decay, one of the worst rates in the county, and around 400 children undergo general anaesthetic every year as a result of dental problems.
Fluoride, found in most toothpastes, helps protect teeth from decay by toughening the enamel. While the chemical is already present in drinking water, fluoridation increases the amount.
More than five million people in the UK are already drinking fluoridated water and tests have shown dramatic benefits to oral health.
Cllr Inglis said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt would be informed of Hull’s intention to fluoridate the water supply and East Riding Council will have three months to consider the neighbouring authority’s plan once formal notification is made by the city council next year.
A public consultation process, lasting a minimum of three months, will then begin in both Hull and in the East Riding towns affected, giving residents affected by the plan to have their say.
Hull council will then make a decision based on the feedback from the public consultation. If approved by the council, it will then be passed back to Mr Hunt for final approval.
The scheme is likely to cost £300,000 a year to run although Cllr Inglis said the scheme would pay for itself in less than two years by reducing the financial burden on health services.
“I don’t know one programme I have been involved in that will pay for itself in that length of time,” he said.
He said the scheme had been estimated to produce at least £6 in benefits, by reducing the financial burden on the NHS and dental services, for every £1 spent.
However, there is certain to be a major backlash against the plans from environmental campaigners, those who distrust scientific evidence stating fluoridated water has no known impact on health and those who insist adding fluoride to the water is a breach of civil liberties.
Cllr Inglis said he was prepared to listen to “any sensible argument” but said claims linking fluoridated water supplies to cancer and other serious health problems were “simply nonsense”.
He said: “We had one of the leading experts at Public Health England saying there was so evidence whatsoever of any negative health impact.
“However, there is statistical evidence of a reduced incidence of kidney stones and bladder cancer as a consequence.”
He said the links of fluoridating to staining teeth was “cosmetic” and was more common in parts of the country with far higher concentrations of fluoride in the water supply compared to Hull’s plans of one part to one million.
In Birmingham, the first major area to introduce water fluoridation 50 years ago, the number of children with tooth decay almost halved in the first six years.
Those against fluoridation claim it is linked to illnesses including bone cancer and hip fractures and increases staining on teeth. However, in March last year, Public Health England examined fluoridated areas for signs of harm and found none.
When the first major fluoridation scheme was introduced in Birmingham in 1964, many people complained the water “tasted funny” on the day fluoride was supposed to have been added.
However, it emerged a last-minute glitch had prevented the chemical being added and people were still drinking the same water they had been drinking for years.
Tim Fielding, city manager for Health and Wellbeing at the city council, said the authority was now “exploring the possibility” of introducing water fluoridation in Hull and a decision would be made on pursing the plan further after a meeting of the council’s health scrutiny commission next month.
He said: “With advice from Public Health England (PHE), discussions are ongoing with all relevant parties to identify the potential costs and the exact extent of any residents that would be affected from local authorities outside of Hull.
“If a decision is made to proceed with fluoridation, a full public consultation will be included in the process.
“These proposals are just one element of Hull’s oral health plan, which also includes a significant amount of work already underway with organisations, professionals and agencies across the city, including Hull CCG, midwives, children’s centres, schools and health visitors.”