Residents in the Wellington Region once again have effective levels of fluoride in their water, after a damning report found it hadn’t been administered properly for six years.
An independent inquiry was launched in March when it was revealed Wellington Water resorted to completely switching off fluoridation at two plants last year without telling the board, councils, or residents.
It found fluoridation for oral health was not a priority within Wellington Water. The company has apologised for the failings.
New Zealand Dental Association spokesman Dr Rob Beaglehole has described the situation as a “dental disaster”, which could result in higher levels of new dental decay.
In an update today, Wellington Water said new fluoride facilities at the Te Marua and Gear Island Water Treatment Plants were now operating reliably.
Chief executive Colin Crampton said testing had gone well and fluoridation was within the Ministry of Health’s target range for most of September.
“It’s been five months since we first announced that the fluoride facilities at the Te Marua and Gear Island Water Treatment Plants were turned off.
“Since then, we’ve had a team of dedicated Wellington Water employees working tirelessly to build new facilities and get fluoride back on.”
Wellington Water chief executive Colin Crampton. Photo / Mark Tantrum
Fluoridation was switched off at Te Marua in May 2021 and at Gear Island in November.
Crampton said key changes have been made to ensure the company maintained a “relentless focus” on fluoridation.
Monthly reporting of fluoride levels from all four of the region’s metropolitan water treatment plants will continue.
The public will be notified when fluoride facilities are turned off for maintenance or repairs.
The independent review also found insufficient visibility at governance and management levels to ensure effective fluoridation created a “corporate invisibility”.
“Over time, this has led to a lack of appreciation internally of the importance that stakeholders and the public place on effectively fluoridated water.”
Interviewees described a “reactive culture and learned helplessness” through which they gradually accepted investments to resolve systemic issues would not be granted.
The report found Regional Public Health (RPH) was aware Wellington’s water wasn’t being fluoridated properly since 2016, but the regulator did not raise any concerns.
This was despite RPH health being an organisation created to “promote good health, prevent disease, and improve the quality of life for our population”.
As of July 1 RPH no longer exists and Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand has taken over.
The region’s medical officer of health Stephen Palmer confirmed they were aware of inconsistent levels of fluoridation since 2016.
“Our emphasis was on the safety of the drinking water rather than ensuring optimal levels of fluoridation.”
RPH’s priority was to ensure over-dosing did not occur, Palmer said.
Wellington Water is “close” to implementing all five recommendations from the independent inquiry.
The report’s recommendations:
• Maintain a relentless focus on effective fluoridation in both the short and long term.
• Make sure the board has the right collective experience and knowledge to govern effectively.
• Provide greater clarity of roles, responsibilities, and processes for managing fluoridation issues within Wellington Water.
• Improve the standard of asset management.
• Review the capacity for internal auditing.
*Original full-text article online at: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/fluoridation-returned-to-wellington-after-dental-disaster/BGM34XJUJ2VHWF2BWFPLNE5BZA/