FORGET the Catholic versus Protestant, Collingwood versus Essendon or Ford versus Holden arguments, fluoridation has hit a sensitive nerve.
The imminent forced addition of fluoride to water supplies in Warrnambool, Allansford, Koroit and Hamilton is shaping up to be a dogged battle between the community and the Government.
Amid the confusing array of technical medical evidence from both sides of the issue is an important platform of society – democracy.
The State Government and Department of Human Services (DHS) believe they have the right to give Victorians equal access to fluoridation which lowers dental decay.
Opponents say they have the right to refuse “forced medication” and should be given a vote on it.
They also cite research showing bone disease, brain damage and reduced thyroid function as well as possible bone cancer as strong reasons to protest.
Fluoridation equipment is scheduled to be installed at Warrnambool’s Albert Park water treatment plant this year.
The Government last week announced Hamilton and Yarrawonga would be next.
Colac is on the waiting list behind Geelong and Ballarat where government officials are consulting community leaders.
Department of Human Services spokesman Bram Alexander said it was government policy to extend fluoridation to all reasonably-sized towns with reticulated water supply.
The issue sparked two of the largest protest meetings in Warrnambool’s history late last year when two gatherings of about 800 people aired widespread concern.
Warrnambool City Council was slammed for not voting against state directives to instigate fluoridation.
Protest organisers two weeks ago met campaigners from Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat, Daylesford and Hamilton to form the Victorian Fluoride Action Group and take their campaign to a national level.
They have warned they are prepared to go to the High Court if necessary for a ruling on democratic rights under the constitution.
Victoria’s chief health officer Doctor John Carnie late last year said the decision to fluoridate in south-west Victoria was unlikely to change.
“The Government is committed to improving the oral health of all Victorians. The introduction of water fluoridation throughout the remaining non-fluoridated centres such as Warrnambool is a vital step towards achieving this commitment,” he wrote to Wannon Water customers.
“The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence supports the safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation.”
His assurance did little to ease the concerns of Warrnambool residents such as former town clerk Vern Robson.
The 67-year-old was asked to chair a community rally last November and another a few weeks later.
“I thought it would be just one public meeting but I have since learned of the depth of concern, locally and internationally, on this issue,” he said.
“I have no doubt human rights will prevail.
“This issue is a sleeping giant.”
Mr Robson said unless people were prepared to fight he felt the cause would be lost.
“I have read and learned enough in the past few months to convince me there needed to be more scientific research on long-term effects of fluoride,” he said.
Melbourne University professor Mike Morgan, however, said he was convinced there was an overwhelming body of scientific evidence supporting fluoridation.
He blames opponents for scaring the community into believing there are serious health risks.
“It always struck me as selfish that small numbers of people oppose something that brings health benefits to the majority,” he said.
“There is no evidence to support claims that fluoridation causes cancer. You can’t overdose on it.
“The only health detriment is tooth fluorosis in a few cases.
“Fluoridation is the most cost-effective program in all health services.
“For every dollar spent on fluoridation there is a return of $40 million in savings of oral health care.”
So, it seems the stage is set for a long battle that could well go to the biggest legal fighting arena in the nation.