A group of Hamilton city councillors are pushing for the removal of fluoride from the city’s water this time without a referendum.
Three years after the city agreed in a public poll to keep fluoridation, a surprise move at a council meeting this week has put the issue back on the agenda.
At Wednesday’s long-term plan meeting, councillor Dave Macpherson asked to have the possibility of scrapping fluoridation discussed at a meeting on July 1.
The move was rejected 9-4 but if he and other councillors can agree on an appropriate timing for a showdown he may have the numbers to get rid of fluoride.
Mr Macpherson told councillors that even “blind Freddy” recognised it was a matter of when, not if, and he felt the time had come.
“We know quite enough to make a decision now,” he said.
Councillors Joe Di Maio, Glenda Saunders and Roger Hennebry back Mr Macpherson.
Two councillors Maria Westphal and John Gower indicated they would support the move if it was not so rushed. Mr Gower suggested a debate be held at the start of next year.
Mr Macpherson may need to gather only one more vote.
Mrs Saunders a former dental nurse said councillors should be informed enough by now to make a decision. “Fluoride will come out of our water, it’s just a matter of when.”
Councillors Gordon Chesterman and Pippa Mahood said that if fluoridation was raised again it should be through a referendum.
“This is a significant public debate,” Mr Chesterman said.
“The community hasn’t been engaged and I think they would be outraged if we went ahead and made that decision.”
He said that if there was another referendum it should be held without any supporting information, because last time councillors were inundated with information from both sides.
The referendum in May 2006 cost ratepayers $160,000 and triggered a strong campaign for retention by the Health Ministry which left opponents of fluoridation saying they had been outgunned.
About 33,500 voters 38 per cent of those eligible returned their papers, and 70 per cent wanted fluoride to stay.
Mayor Bob Simcock voted against Mr Macpherson’s motion, saying the lack of notice for the public would mean that whichever way the council voted “someone is going to be seriously pissed off”.
But Mr Macpherson today indicated he would try again once he had talked with supportive colleagues.
“It’s a question of finding the right tactics for how to do it.
“It’s an issue that isn’t going to go away.”
If another effort was not made in the next few months it would certainly come before the end of the council term in October next year.
Mr Macpherson said the action was spurred by submitters to the long-term plan. Councillors have been provided with information, including an apparent decision by the European Court of Justice saying fluoridated water should not be used to prepare foods.The suggestion is that this could have implications for New Zealand exports to Europe.
Waikato DHB medical officer of health Felicity Dumble was shocked to hear fluoridation was back on the city council’s agenda.
She said the council had gone to a lot of effort and expense to hold a referendum and ensure they knew what people wanted.
“They need to take into account not only professional opinion which supports fluoridation but also the views of the community which has backed it,” she said.
She was not aware of any scientific evidence that had changed anything since fluoride was last publicly debated in Hamilton. Another referendum at this stage would be a “dreadful waste of time and effort”.
A long-time advocate for removing fluoride, Christine Cave, welcomed the move.