THE setting up of an expert group to review fluoridation of public water supplies was described as a `whitewash’ by the Green Party yesterday.
Health Minister Micheal Martin said the group will review research into fluoridation amid public concern about its possible impact on health and deliver recommendations.
Although fluoridation has been credited with dramatically improving the nation’s dental health, there are major concerns about possible links to cancer, mouth ulcers, bone loss, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. However, scientific research has so far concluded it presents no danger.
Green Party TD John Gormley described the plan for a review group as having “all the hallmarks of a political whitewash”.
The minister said the new forum will be made up of people with expertise in public health, dental health, food safety, environmental protection, ethics of fluoridation, water quality, health promotion as well as representatives from consumer and environmental sectors.
He insisted fluoridation has made a contribution to the dental health of the Irish population over the last 37 years.
Children, adults and especially the socially deprived have seen dental decay rates fall by 70%, said Mr Martin.
“Fluoridation of water has not been without controversy. In the years prior to its introduction in Ireland, a national debate ensued in which pro and anti fluoridation views were explored thoroughly,” said the minister.
He promised that he would give serious consideration to any recommendations made by the group but added that levels of fluoridation are already below safety limits.
However, opponents have pointed out the public are also getting fluoride from other sources, including toothpaste.
The membership has yet to be fully completed but names issued yesterday include Prof Pat Fottrel, president of UCG; dental experts Prof John Clarkson and Prof Denis O Mullane; Prof Maura O Brien, department of anatomy, TCD; Prof Cecily Kelleher of the department of health promotion, Galway, and Miriam Wylie (ESRI).
A major research project, looking into all aspects of fluoride use including water fluoridation and other fluoride sources, is now underway in Ireland and this will result in updated guidelines for each health board area.
The Department of Health and Children and the health boards have commissioned this research which will be carried out by University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin.
The Green Party described it as having “all the hallmarks of a political whitewash” and claimed it was hard to avoid the suspicion that the minister was acting before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children prepares a report on the issue.
“Fianna Fail has now got the message from their own private polls that water fluoridation has become an important political issue. Let us hope this forum is not just a cynical political response,” said Deputy John Gormley.
He also questioned the impartiality of some of the members of the forum and said a number had very pro-fluoride views.
Karen Stewart, of the Sligo Anti Fluoride Group, said she did not believe there is a safe level of fluoride consumption and described it as “a cumulative poison”.
Labour Party spokesman on the environment Eamon Gilmore stressed the importance of a deadline being set for the forum to deliver its report.
Pending its outcome there should be an embargo on fluoridation of any new water schemes which may come on stream in the meantime, he added.