“In public meetings I always end up persuading the audience, but politicians and bureaucrats just won’t debate the issue with me,” said Paul Connett, a committed opponent of adding fluoride to drinking supplies.

Prof Connett, who was in Kempsey last week as part of a speaking tour taking in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, retired last year from the chair of Professor of Chemistry at St Lawrence University, in the State of New York.

“It’s my fourth visit to Australia,” the professor told the Argus.

“I was here for three years running, in 2002, 2003 and 2004, then there’s been a bit of a gap until now, but now I’ve retired from the university I’ll be able to devote more time to publicising the very real risks with fluoridation – risks that an increasing number of scientists are recognising.

“ The doubters are diminishing.”

The professor, a tall, distinguished looking Englishman who has lived in the US for nearly 30 years, once numbered himself among those doubters.

“It was my wife who really started me looking at the evidence and arguments,” he says.

“She put a pile of papers in front of me and said ‘I really think you should read this stuff’. I thought, ‘Oh No, not these anti-fluoride nutters’, but then I started to study the material and it slowly dawned on me that many of them were well informed and knew their science. My prejudices were unfounded.”

The professor, a director of the Fluoride Action Network, an international grouping of scientists and others opposed to the fluoridation of drinking water supplies, has a blunt message.

“There’s no argument that fluoride does cause damage to people’s health,” he says, citing examples from parts of India and China where the water supplies contain high concentrations of naturally occurring fluoride.

“You get fluoride in water anyway,” he says. “But in these areas where it’s abnormally high people are plagued with health troubles, the most troubling of which is a condition called skeletal fluorosis, in which the bones of the spine become fused together and sufferers are bent over.

“Generally, the higher the concentrations of fluoride in water the more we see people going down with bone problems such as osteoporosis, thyroid problems and conditions very similar in their symptoms to arthritis, among others.”

And the professor says that even at the low concentrations of around one part per million (1ppm) that fluoridated water supplies contain, a swathe of health problems are coming to light.

“It’s a clumsy way of delivering a treatment that they insist reduces tooth decay and can’t do you harm,” said Professor Connett.

“Lots of things are added to water in the purification process, but fluoridation is a treatment and there’s no control over its effects across the entire population – the very young, very old, those with poor nutrition and people with poor kidney function who can’t excrete it as efficiently as others.

“And everyone’s being encouraged to drink more water.”

The professor said it was well over 60 years since the first water supplies were fluoridated and, as time had gone by, a growing number of problems had emerged.

“The American Dental Assoc-iation is now telling mothers not to use fluoridated water when mixing milk formula for babies,” he said.

“Dentists in the US have realised there’s no control over how much fluoride the babies are getting – it’s affected by how often they’re feeding, the strength of the feed mix, the amount of fluoride in the water …

“But the real clincher in this is that breast milk has a very low fluoride content; it doesn’t seem like nature puts any sort of premium on it.”

And the professor said an alarming number of older children were showing the symptoms of dental fluorosis – a condition in which the teeth discolour because of over-consumption of fluoride.

“A survey shows that as many as 32 per cent of American children may have this condition to some degree,” he said

“The Centre for Disease Control in the USA says its effects are only cosmetic – you try telling that to an average teenager self-conscious about their appearance!”

And what about the basic argument that having fluoride added to your drinking water cuts the number of tooth cavities you’ll get?

Professor Connett said a growing amount of scientific research going back to the early ’80s showed no difference between tooth decay among people whose drinking water was fluoridated and those with unfluoridated supplies.

“The fact is that when you look at levels of tooth decay across the board – in places where the water’s fluoridated and those where it isn’t – you see that tooth decay is going down generally, thanks to people becoming more affluent, more informed, and hence eating better and looking after their teeth better.

“A study from New Zealand showed levels of dental decay there were falling before the government introduced fluoridation.”

And, said the professor, an Australian study published in the top international science journal, Nature, in 2004 had found no relation between tooth decay and fluoridation.

But the professor didn’t deny that fluoride-containing toothpastes might also have played a role in this improvement.

“I think the topical application of the substance – directly, where it’s thought it might do some good – could make sense,” he said. “But not the systemic use – taking fluoride into your whole body by drinking it.”

After his speaking engagement in Kempsey on Wednesday evening the professor was bound for Brisbane, where he will be a guest speaker at the Combined Environmental Scientific Symposium, taking place in the Queensland capital on October 27 and 28.

“Australia’s got a long way to go,” he said. “People have simply got to start questioning their decision-makers on this issue, though it will be a hard battle. Here, as in other countries committed to fluoridation, like New Zealand, the USA, Israel and Ireland, politicians and civil servants have promoted fluoridation for so long, it’ll mean a loss of credibility to admit they’ve been wrong.

“But a growing number of their counterparts in countries such as the UK and Germany have taken that step.”

Fluoridation has not commenced in Kempsey Shire.

The South West Rocks fluoridation system is complete and awaiting inspection by the Department of Water and Energy, and the Crescent Head and Kempsey fluoridation systems have been designed and have been submitted for construction approval with NSW Health.

Footnote: NSW Health state they will not force any councils to fluoridate their water supplies.

Kempsey Shire Council has asked for a reversal of gazettal of fluoridation, NSW health is refusing to reverse gazettal. NSW Health state that Kempsey Shire Council requested fluoridation.

Council has again forwarded a copy of the original council motion to NSW Health.

It states that the decision was handed to expert committee of health, with certain provisions including that “unless a strong case” for fluoridation was demonstrated, Kempsey would not be fluoridating their water supplies.