WHEN the State Government announced last year it would fluoridate water supplies in Warrnambool, Allansford and Koroit, it sparked a huge community outcry.
The issue had been simmering for decades, but it wasn’t until the Government decided to expand its fluoridation roll-out that the depth of opposition came to light.
Two public rallies, each attended by about 800 people, slammed the city council for caving in to the Government’s directive and instigated a fight that could go all the way to the High Court.
Several local doctors also broke ranks with conventional medical opinion and aired their doubts about fluoridation.
Former Warrnambool town clerk and local government amalgamation administrator Vern Robson was thrust into the limelight when he agreed to chair the rallies.
Mr Robson, a spokesman for the newly formed Victorian Fluoride Action Group, said he was driven by a desire to uphold the public’s democratic rights.
Campaigners in Geelong, Ballarat, Hamilton and Daylesford have joined forces with Warrnambool campaigners in a united front they hope will eventually expand into a national movement.
On the scientific front, fluoridation opponents have found an ally in University of New South Wales professor Mark Diesendorf.
Professor Diesendorf maintains that water fluoridation is unethical, unsafe, ineffective and pushed by corporate interests.
He said fluoridation could cause bone cancer in men exposed to it from a young age.
In several reports he wrote that fluoridation was a violation of medical ethics, describing it as a form of mass medication with an uncontrolled dose.
Professor Diesendorf said fluoride could cause the bone disease skeletal fluorosis (bone pain and join stiffness), adding that animal experiments had shown that ingesting fluoride could lead to brain damage.
A summary of the debate published in the BMJ medical journal last October concluded there was no guarantees on safety when it came to fluoridation.
The article, written by Professor K. K. Cheng and Professor Trevor Sheldon and edited by Iain Chalmers, said there were few relevant studies to support the view that fluoridation reduced social inequalities in dental health.
The authors said they were surprised by the poor quality of evidence provided in the earlier report.
Referring to arguments surrounding fluoridation being viewed as a form of medication, the authors referred to the right of patients to decide whether or not to undergo medical treatment, even if refusal to do so could result in harm.
Professor Sheldon, who chaired the University of York review, said he was concerned the results had been “widely misrepresented”.
“The review did not show water fluoridation to be safe,” he said.
“Until quality studies are undertaken providing more definite evidence, there will continue to be legitimate scientific controversy over the likely effects and costs of water fluoridation.
“There was little evidence to show that water fluoridation has reduced social inequalities in dental health.” Opponents have also pointed out that the only European countries with fluoridation in reticulated water supplies are England, Ireland and Spain.
A deputation from Warrnambool to Victoria’s chief health officer Dr John Carnie in January raised a number of medical issues including:
The possible side effects of using fluoridated water with infant formula milk;
Legal concerns arising from the duty of care required of medical and dental professionals if fluoride was considered a form of medication;
Concerns within medical and dental professions that fluoride containing traces of arsenic are added to public water supplies;
Concern on side-effects of fluoride coming into contact with lead water pipe fittings;
A possible link between fluoride in public water supplies and iodine deficiencies.
Dr Carnie’s 15-page response was mailed to the Warrnambool group late last week.