The Methven Community Board was branded as “absolutely gutless” by Ashburton dental surgeon Justin Wall when Methven anti-fluoride campaigners won the right to a referendum yesterday.
The campaigners finally had their day in the sun, successfully getting the town’s board behind a referendum.
Campaigners Margaret and Philip Johnson have been protesting against fluoride in the water supply for 10 years, and in that time have tried to get the board on their side twice.
But it was “third-time lucky” at the board’s six-weekly meeting yesterday.
They thought a new board make-up would be on their side, and they were right.
Of the board’s members who voted against a referendum last time – chairman Martin Nordqvist, Bev Anderson, Viv Barrett and Ashburton District Councillor Derek Glass – only Mr Nordqvist remains in the new local body term. He was the only one who opposed the referendum at the meeting yesterday, while remaining members Dave Wilson and Ken Lowe, who supported it last time, and new members Liz McMillan, Hamish Gilpin and councillor Bev Tasker all supported the referendum. Member Dave den Baars, also in support of a referendum at the meeting 12 months ago, was absent.
Mr Wall was scathing of the board’s decision, and said after the meeting “anyone with the IQ of a toothbrush” would understand fluoride was a valuable addition to community water supplies.
He said he was “ashamed at the level of leadership exhibited by some of the community board members” and said they were “absolutely gutless” in their lack of “moral strength” in not standing up for the status quo. At the meeting he told the board the cost of living was rising and the removal of fluoride in Ashburton had increased demand for clinical dental care which residents had to pay for themselves, putting further strain on budgets.
While decay rates in children had risen since fluoride had been removed, one of the biggest groups to sustain an increase was the over-65s.
“It’s heartbreaking to have to take all the teeth out of an 84-year-old who has kept them all her life,” Dr Wall said.
Canterbury District Health Board medical officer Daniel Williams said water fluoridation was safe and helped prevent tooth decay.
Among a handful of residents at the meeting was Kevin Thompson, who told the board he was not there to argue the pros and cons of fluoride, but that a referendum was the only fair way to decide the issue.
“I have spoken to a large number of people in Methven and I have yet to find one that would not support a referendum for no other reason than to put the matter to rest.
“In my opinion it’s a basic human right to have a say as to what goes in our water.”
Board member Dave Wilson said he could not accept it was beyond reasonable doubt that fluoride was a valid public health measure when the majority of Canterbury areas had rejected it. Methven was the only town besides Burnham Military Camp which continued to have its water fluoridated.
Member Liz McMillan asked if fluoride tablets were subsidised, to which Dr Williams said no, and his family spent $150 per year on these.
Ms McMillan had conducted her own telephone survey and found the majority of residents were happy with fluoride and would vote for it if there was a referendum.