THOUSANDS of children could be at risk from a fluoride ‘rinsing’ programme introduced in schools three years ago, a leading environmental campaigner has warned.

And Walter Graham has now demanded a meeting with Education Minister Martin McGuinness and Health Minister Bairbre de Brun to discuss the implications of devastating new findings.

The scientific study, conducted in Belgium, discovered that excessive use of fluoride products could cause poisoning, damage the nervous system and foster the brittle bone condition, osteoporosis.

Following the findings the country’s health minister, Magda Aelvoet, announced a freeze on the sale of ALL tablets and drops that contain fluoride.

The minister also announced her intention to discuss with her European Union counterparts the possibility of a ban on the use of fluoride in toothpaste for children.

A total of pounds 500,000 was allocated to health boards in Northern Ireland by Ms de Brun’s department in 1999 to increase oral health promotion.

The programme included fluoride rinsing for schoolchildren, the supply of fluoride supplements and oral health advice at post-natal clinics.

The strategy was developed after health chiefs were forced to shelve plans to introduce fluoride to Ulster’s drinking water.

Mr Graham, spokesman for Northern Ireland Councils Against Fluoridation, said: “It would be highly immoral if Mr McGuinness or Ms de Brun ignored this report from Belgium.

“Here, for the first time and after many years of debate, is clear evidence that our health boards are toying with the welfare of children because of the dental profession’s infatuation with fluoride.

“The oral and rinsing campaign should be halted in all schools because fluoride is an accumulative poison, even more toxic than lead and almost equal in killing power to arsenic.

“In America toothpaste carries a health warning and any child under six who accidentally swallows even a pea-sized amount of fluoride is told to seek immediate professional help.”

Mr Graham added: “Despite this and despite irrefutable scientific evidence, schools here are still pumping poison into our children through fluoride supplements.

“I will be pressing for an urgent meeting with the two ministers to ensure action is taken at the highest level.”

A number of schools are already facing court actions from parents who claim that fluoride supplements were administered without any warning of possible side-effects.

A NIO source said both Ms de Brun and Mr McGuinness were aware of the Belgian study and were awaiting a detailed report.

The ban is the first of its kind in the European Union and a drive is now underway for ‘harmonisation in health’ among all member states.