Fluoride Action Network

Fluoride poll passes Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, despite no authority to act on ‘yes’ vote

Source: ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) | March 19th, 2020 | By Luisa Rubbo and Kirstie Wellauer
Location: Australia

A council on the New South Wales Mid North Coast has voted in favour of putting a poll to the community about removing fluoride from the public water supply.

Key points:

  • Voters in the Port Macquarie-Hastings local council elections in September will be asked if they want council to stop adding fluoride to the public water supply
  • In 1991, 71 per cent of voters said they did not want fluoride added to the water, and the Mayor now wants to know if people feel the same way
  • The council has been adding fluoride to the water since 2012, in accordance with the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act

The question: ‘Would you prefer that council stop adding fluoride to the public water supply?’ will be put to voters at the same time as the local government elections in September.

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council Mayor Peta Pinson used last month’s council meeting to put forward the idea of going to the community.

Last night, the vote was four councillors in favour of the question and three against.

Councillor Pinson stressed it was not a poll about removing fluoridation.

“It is just a poll for the community to have their say; it’s a wide-based engagement process so we can see how, in 2020, our community feels,” she said.

The Port Macquarie-Hastings Council has been adding fluoride to the water since February 2012 in accordance with the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act and the NSW Code of Practice for Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies.

No legal authority

Councillor Peter Alley, who voted against the proposed poll, said the council did not have the authority to cease fluoridating the water supply.

“Under the Fluoridation Act of NSW we are compelled to continue to fluoridate the water supply,” he said.

“We don’t have the legal authority to cease doing it.”

“What we will be measuring in a poll is the number of people who we’re going to disappoint.

“The people who will vote that they don’t want fluoride in the water supply will expect council to act on that, and we cannot act on it.”

Last year, the council sought and received legal advice regarding the legality of adding fluoride to the local government area’s water supply.

A council report stated that the addition of fluoride to water supply reticulation schemes had been illegal since the introduction of the Therapeutic Goods Act in 1989.

A result of a 1991 poll was that 71 per cent of the electors that participated in the poll did not want fluoride added to the water supply, which was accepted by the council.

“Is that the same sentiment in 2020?” Councillor Pinson said.

“Thankfully our community’s going to have an opportunity with a yes or no vote.”

The single-question poll could cost the council around $60,000.

Never been done

Around 96 per cent of the NSW population receives fluoridated water and the public health benefits of fluoridation are recognised by the World Health Organisation, major dental associations globally, and NSW Health.

“Water fluoridation is a safe, legal, and ethical way of providing benefit to everyone, especially those who are disadvantaged and it is proven to prevent dental decay in all ages, but is particularly beneficial to children,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.

Only one local council water utility in the state’s south west — the Balranald Shire — has ever requested NSW Health revoke a direction to fluoridate a water supply.

However, NSW Health did not revoke the direction and the water supply continues to be fluoridated.

The department said, should a similar request be received, NSW Health would consider information provided by the council and other sources, including other Government agencies, dental practitioners, and the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Advisory Committee.

There are only a handful of communities in NSW where fluoridation is not possible for a variety of reasons, including technical constraints or where supply is predominately rainwater tanks at individual houses.

Close up shot of a woman's mouth, being treated by a dentist.
Dentists say fluoride is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)

‘Safe and effective’

Port Macquarie dentist Mark Brisley said it was important that the community was well informed and that was a role for the Department of Health and bodies such as the Australian Dental Association and Medical Association.

“I’d like to reassure people that it is actually very safe,” he said.

“Teeth that have fluoride in their enamel are less likely to decay.”

Dr Brisley said fluoride had been in drinking water in Sydney since the early 1960s and it had been in drinking water in the United States even longer.

“People have expressed their concerns that it might not be healthy but the studies, and there have been many studies over the past 50 years, have shown that it is a very safe and effective way of reducing tooth decay,” he said.

“There’s a wide of range of opinions on everything in the community and water fluoridation just seems to be one of those issues along with things like vaccination and other public health measures.

“We have had water fluoridation now for eight years, and so far it’s shown to be as effective as it is in other parts of the community.”

Dr Brisley said it was easy to study fluoride’s effectiveness.

“The nature of water fluoridation is you have large groups of the population affected by water fluoridation or not affected by fluoridation,” he said.

“So having water fluoridation reduces the amount of tooth decay significantly — especially in children — and it’s very easy to measure and it’s something that’s been shown to be true all around the world.

“If we weren’t to have water fluoridation we would probably find the rates of decay in children particularly would increase over time.”

The results of a poll will be non-binding on the newly elected council and participation by electors is voluntary.

*Original article online at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-19/fluoridation-poll-passes-port-macquarie-hastings-council/12069952