Hastings could head to a referendum to decide whether it should continue dosing its district water supply with fluoride.

The possibility of a referendum was prompted after differing opinions at the Hastings District Council’s annual plan hearing, over the health benefits and impacts of continuing to mix the chemical into our water.

The last referendum over the fluoride debate in Hastings was held in 1990 when just over 50 per cent of people voted to keep using the chemical.

The latest challenge also comes as Hastings looks at building a new fluoride plant, primarily to up the dose of the chemical heading into Flaxmere’s water supply, which is currently below the level recommended by the Ministry of Health.

Submitters at the hearing, homeopath Angela Hair and nutritionist Ben Warren, asked the council to stop putting fluoride into our water, citing a lack of research showing the chemical was beneficial.

Earlier in the hearing, however, the council heard from Dr Nicholas Jones from the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board who said the DHB supported the council’s continued using fluoride.

Mr Warren argued the DHB was only looking at the issue from “the health of teeth” where as the council should consider the “overall health effect of fluoride”.

He submitted fluoride could have knock-on effects contributing to breast cancer and diabetes and asked the DHB analyse all major disease types on areas which had fluoride and those which did not.

Yesterday councillors also had differing views over the fluoride debate and were split on whether to hold a referendum.

Some wanted a referendum immediately to let the public decide whether the chemical use should be continued while others thought the advice of the DHB should be followed.

Councillor Kevin Watkins wanted to wait until a European report on the health impacts of fluoride was released later this year.

“I believe there are some real doubts that have been raised and I think we need to wait until the major study in Europe is completed, which will address those questions and doubts.

“I have respect for health accords but the question mark arrives when you see in 1996 in the US, a number of [health] groups stopped endorsing fluoride,” he said.

The council is under pressure to make a decision on a referendum because it has been offered $250,000 from the Government to build the new fluoride plant but must take up the offer immediately. The council decided it would not make a decision on a referendum until its meeting on June 24, by which time it would have more information on the European report and from the DHB, in terms of why it supported the continued use of fluoride.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said the decision of the referendum would be binding. “My personal view is that if you have a referendum, what the people say is binding otherwise you might as well not have it,” he said.

The council’s annual plan hearing has been adjourned until June 24.