This is an excerpt from the transcript of of the Motion. For more, click here
From what I have read in recent days, we are not talking about a bunch of crazies who have a vested interest in getting this. Equally, I do not think the State believes it is doing harm by keeping it in there, but it warrants a review. It is something that comes up frequently. Some friends of mine will only have bottled water and will try to ensure their children do not have access to fluoride.
The reasons for Senator Mary Ann O’Brien tabling the motion are absolutely sound. I read her very good article in today’s Irish Independent. I also read the comments that people added online. An interesting broad church of people gave their responses to it. We certainly could do worse than have a review at this time given that it is 12 years since the last one when we decided to continue with the policy. It would be timely to review it again and the Minister of State would be doing us all a favour by answering that this evening – there might be no need for a vote.
Some of the information highlighted to me on the effects of fluoridation of water is indeed frightening. It was clearly a 1950s solution and approach to a particular issue which is outdated. We have all taken on board our responsibilities in the context of dental health. I do not believe it is impossible for us to continue to be dentally healthy as a nation if we opted to change the policy. I accept we do not want to scaremonger and say we are all going to die. Senator Mary Ann O’Brien made the point about it being the cumulative impact of this over a long period. There may be links to some of these illnesses and perhaps if we took it out and monitored it over a ten-year period, we might see some results.
Our starting point should not be that fluoridation is the bees’ knees and we will continue with it. The approach ought to be that policies need to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. It has been 12 years since the last review, other research is available and there are fears out there. At an absolute minimum, even if we were to continue with the policy, we should reassure people why we are doing that and we should outline the levels of fluoride in water, why it is there and how it is possible to avoid intake of it by avoiding fluoridated drinking water. People are entitled to know that and the nation should inform people about the level of fluoridation in the water so that if they feel they do not want themselves or their children exposed to it, they must get other forms of water for drinking, brushing teeth and so on
We should have tabled an amendment but were not quick enough. If we had tabled an amendment, it would have called for a review and that ought to be done. I do not want to delay the House. I thank Senator Mary Ann O’Brien for her very informative article in today’s newspaper. It certainly gave me new information that I did not have in addition to other information that was given to me. According to my documentation 97% – Senator Mary Ann O’Brien mentioned 98% – of people in Europe clearly have concerns and they are not crazies so let us have a look at the most up-to-date research on the issue with an open mind and be flexible on what we might do following a review. I know where Senator Mary Ann O’Brien is coming from, but I do not think it is possible that we could all have an individual choice because of water supply – John next door cannot have it if I do not want it. Maybe we could look at that.
I am not convinced that I want it completely removed from the water system. I have major concerns as an individual with young children. The Minister of State would be best advised to conduct a review at an absolute minimum among the staff at her Department. I am sure there is no additional cost for that – people are being paid in the usual way as members of staff. Perhaps she could report back to us in a month or two with the results of that review and we could consider the issue again.
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):
I thank the previous speaker for the suggestion, but I think from the content of my speech the Senator will realise that the issue of fluoridation is under continual review. I thank Senator Mary Ann O’Brien for tabling the motion and I acknowledge that some Senators have a particular interest in it. Unlike others, I have been listening to the debate about fluoridation all my life. My father had a particular interest in it, as did my father-in-law after that, so it is a debate I have been listening to for many years.
I acknowledge and thank the Senators for holding this debate. I commend everyone who contributed. I know others are yet to contribute, but I have to leave early. The Government will not support the motion in its current form, but the Government has proposed an amendment that provides for the continuing review of this important issue of public interest and concern. I commend the Government amendment before the House and I hope everyone has read it.
Water fluoridation is the adjustment of the natural concentration of fluoride in drinking water to the recommended level for the prevention of tooth decay. Fluoride is a natural mineral used by the body to strengthen teeth and bones. Fluoride occurs naturally in all water supplies at different levels and is found in soil, fresh water, seawater, plants and many foods. As the Senator pointed out, fluoridation began in Ireland in 1964 on foot of the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960. The Act and the Fluoridation of Water Supplies Regulations 2007 provide for the making of arrangements by the HSE for the fluoridation of public water supplies. The local authorities, acting on behalf of Irish Water, act as agents for the HSE in providing, installing and maintaining equipment for fluoridation and in adding the fluoride to water and in testing the fluoride content of water to which fluoride has been added.
In Ireland, naturally occurring levels of fluoride tend to be so low that they do not provide sufficient dental benefits. However, there are exceptions. Among the evidence presented to the Oireachtas prior to the introduction of fluoridation 50 years ago was the discovery that the public water supply serving the village of Patrickswell, County Limerick, had a fluoride content of around 0.7 to 1 parts per million. No other water supply in the city or county of Limerick was found to contain fluoride to that significant effect. The then Medical Research Council of Ireland carried out a special examination of children attending Patrickswell national school. It found that the teeth of the children who had been using the naturally fluoridated water supply in that village since birth or the greater part of their lives had less dental decay than the other children attending schools in the rest of the city and county of Limerick.
Artificial water fluoridation replicates a natural benefit by making good a fluoride deficiency in some water supplies. The benefits to oral health brought about by fluoridation have been experienced all over the world. It is hardly surprising that water fluoridation is recognised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Public Health Service as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. As Senator Colm Burke has already outlined, in the case of Ryan v. Attorney General in 1964, the Supreme Court did not accept that the fluoridation of water was, or could be described as, the mass medication or mass administration of drugs through water, as suggested by the Senators.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority is the competent authority for the licensing of human and veterinary medicines and medical devices in Ireland. The HPRA considers that neither drinking water itself nor the fluoride added to drinking water in the form of fluoride salts or silica fluoride, as defined in the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960, should be categorised as medicinal products. The HPRA considers that the fluoridation of drinking water should be seen as a measure consistent with general public health management. Fluoridation can be likened to adding vitamin D to milk or folic acid to cereals. More than 370 million people worldwide receive the benefits of water fluoridation. All EU states have fluoride, in one form or another, at the centre of their public policy approach.