The long-term health risks of placing fluoride into drinking water at source is to be raised at tomorrow’s meeting of Kerry county council. The issue is also expected to be raised at four other local authorities during the next few months. This follows Kildare county council’s decision last month to investigate fluoride levels in water and in residents throughout the county.
Pressure from the public, scientific and medical community has been gradually increasing for the government to rescind its policy of mass-fluoridation and conduct a nationwide survey into the effects of 40 years of the practice.
Only Ireland and Singapore have a state-wide fluoridation policy, according to the anti-fluoridation lobby.
Since fluoridation was first proposed to counter poor oral hygiene in the late 1950s, 98 per cent of Europe has rejected it — a further reason for the government to change its policy, according to its opponents.
Fluoride was first introduced into Ireland by the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960, following a 45-day hearing in the High Court and a subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court in 1963 on the constitutionality of the bill.
It was finally introduced in Dublin in 1964 and gradually extended nationwide. Three quarters of Irish people now live in areas serviced by fluoridated water.
The fluoride introduced into the water in Ireland is an untreated by-product of the fertiliser industry, largely imported from Finland by Albatross Fertilizers of New Ross, Co Wexford. “Fluoride is a waste product of aluminium production and is untested and unlicensed,” said Robert Pocock of Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment (Voice).
A spokesman for Albatross refused to be drawn on the details but said: “We supply the product to the highest specifications required by the Eastern Health Board.”
Jimmy Deenihan, the Fine Gael TD who tabled the motion before Kerry county council, said there was a growing sense of fear on the issue, both in Kerry and nationwide. “We must check whether we still need fluoride and assess its impact on people’s health before we make a decision on another fluoridated water scheme,” he said.
The fluoridation forum, set up by Minister for Health Micheal Martin a year ago to investigate the 41-year-old policy, has received more than 1,000 responses from the public. The 19-person forum, which meets monthly, is due to send a final report to the minister in late October.
Martin supports the policy of fluoridation, but is awaiting the report before making any long-term policy decision.
An Oireachtas joint committee is involved in a parallel investigation into state-sponsored fluoridation.
Voice claims that 14 of the 19 members of the forum are “pro-fluoridation”, but a forum spokesman said: “The forum is open-minded and all personal biases have been put aside. Any evidence found will be in the report to the minister.”
Health concerns raised by opponents of fluoridation include alleged but unproven links to long-term osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) and irritable bowel syndrome.
Recent scientific studies in America, where public awareness and research is more advanced than in Ireland, have linked serious health problems to the consumption of fluoridated water over a long period.
Voice has also criticised the Department of Health for its failure to adhere to the requirements of the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960, which states: “It shall be the duty of the minister to arrange from time to time for such surveys as appear to him to be desirable”.
“In 40 years, there has never been a nationwide study into the impact of fluoride, as required,” said Pocock.
Water fluoridation is practised in just three areas in the EU — Ireland, the West Midlands of England (with 10 per cent of the country’s population) and selected cities in Spain, taking in just 3 per cent of the total EU population. “Fluoridation has never been introduced, or has been gradually outlawed, throughout Europe because of the increasing health fears and environmental concerns,” said Pocock.
He has written to all county managers and local politicians in areas with planned new water schemes in an effort to stimulate a debate on the topic.
In recent months, five local authorities — Dublin, Sligo, Donegal, Leitrim and Longford — have voted to investigate the continuing impact of the policy. In Northern Ireland, 25 of the 26 local authorities last year voted to veto the introduction of fluoride.
The quality of oral health in Ireland has increased dramatically in the last 30 years, but Ireland lies sixth in the European table of dental health, below five countries which don’t put fluoride in their water.
The Irish Dental Association agrees with the use of fluoride, but admits that society is now nearing the point “where putting fluoride in the water supplies is becoming unnecessary”.
Donal Atkins, the organisation’s secretary general said: “The public can be frightened by unsubstantiated stories and rumours. But dental hygiene levels are rising and people are now close to the point where they take in enough fluoride through toothpaste and other everyday substances for mass fluoridation of water to be unnecessary.”