Cape Town – The state’s legal obligation to add fluoride to drinking water was debated in a parliamentary portfolio committee meeting on Friday because of concerns about the possible side effects the substance might have on the human skeletal structure.
Pressure groups opposed to the addition of fluoride to drinking water told the portfolio committee on forestry and water affairs that the addition of fluoride could be in breach of the Constitution.
Fluoride influences human growth and is taken by consumers without their knowledge.
Most provinces in the country add fluoride to drinking water. The health department argues that tooth decay is a chronic disease, prevalent among 70% of 6-year-olds and 90% of adults.
Poorer households can often not afford to buy toothpaste that contains fluoride and therefore benefits from the addition of the substance to drinking water, said Dr Johan Smith, the department’s director of oral hygiene.
“Water fluoridating costs between R1 and R2 per person per year and is 18 times less expensive than toothpaste and 61 times cheaper than one tooth filling,” Smith said.
Richard Weeden, researcher for a non-governmental organisation in Cape Town, pointed out that more and more developed countries, with the exception of the USA, were abandoning fluoridation because of the substance’s toxicity and the health risk it poses.
Committee chairperson Buyelwa Sonjica said new legislation could stop the addition of fluoride to drinking water.
Dr Hamanath Kasam, chairperson of the water research committee that governs the country’s water boards, said a recent survey at a conference in Durban showed that 74% of delegates did not want fluoride in their drinking water. A number of respondents (6.5%) was not even aware that fluoride was being added to the water they drink.