A decision by the Minister for Health to establish a forum on water fluoridation has created political controversy.
Mr Martin announced yesterday a 20-member forum was being established to review the fluoridation of public pipedwater supplies. The forum will eventually invite submissions from the public.
However, Green Party deputy Mr John Gormley TD, who is the rapporteur on water fluoridation for the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, said he believed the forum was set up to pre-empt the committee’s report. Mr Gormley, who has campaigned against fluoridation, said the establishment of the review group was “a token gesture”. He is due to present his report later in the summer.
The Minister said yesterday on RTÉ Radio’s News at One the forum would examine alleged links between fluoridation and cancer and osteoporosis. “It will look at the research that has taken place already and what the outcome of that research has been, not just in terms of dental health, but in terms of the other issues which from time to time have come to the surface,” the Minister said.
He acknowledged he was a supporter of fluoridation. “There’s been about a 70 per cent improvement in oral and dental health since the introduction of water fluoridation in this country. “That said, the fact we’re establishing a forum illustrates I have an open mind on the situation.
“People have voiced concerns about this; I think the best way to channel those concerns and to have a genuine across-the-board discussion in a non-confrontational sense is through a forum like this,” the Minister said.
Mr Martin said policymakers would also have to consider other issues such as how people “in socio-economically disadvantaged areas would continue to have good dental health”. The quantity of fluoride in the water would also have to be considered, he said. He hoped the forum would be able to complete its work within 12 months.
Labour’s spokesman on the environment and local government, Mr Eamon Gilmore TD, welcomed the establishment of the forum but said there should be an embargo on the fluoridation of water schemes pending the outcome.
The forum members appointed so far are Prof Pat Fottrel of University College Galway; dental experts Prof John Clarkson and Prof Denis O’Mullane; Ms D Hennessy, Dr G Gavin and Dr Dominique Crowley of the Department of Health and Children; public health doctor Dr Máire O’Connor; Prof M O’Brien of Trinity College Dublin (TCD); regional public analyst Mr Kevin Moyles; Prof William Binchy of TCD; Prof Cecily Kelliher; Ms Miriam Wylie of the ESRI and broadcasters Dick Warner and Darina Allen.
Representatives will also be appointed by the Department of the Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Irish Dental Association and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. A specialist in public health and a health board dentist will also be appointed to the forum.
Another research project being carried out by Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork is charged with producing guidelines for the use of fluoride in each health board area. The Department said yesterday that project would continue.