Palmerston North is proposing to keep on fluoridating city water supplies and is finding out the cost of extending treatment to the villages of Bunnythorpe and Longburn.
The city council’s planning and strategy committee on Wednesday confirmed its pro-fluoride stance.
It asked for information on the cost of fluoridating the villages’ supplies so it could consult the public during consideration of its future budgets.
Cr Lew Findlay said the council should go ahead, in the interest of children’s health, before the MidCentral District Health Board “come up with a big stick and tell us to do it anyway”.
The debate took place after submissions closed on a proposed law change that could transfer decision-making responsibility for fluoridation from local authorities to district health boards.
The draft legislation includes a fine of $200,000, and a further $10,000 a day, where councils refused to act on a board direction to fluoridate water supplies.
Water and waste services manager Robert van Bentum said Local Government New Zealand wanted the wording tightened to ensure the transfer of power was clear.
At the moment, it would give health boards power to make directions, but not necessarily require them to exercise those powers.
Public speaker Penny Cowie, who has a diploma in laboratory science and a personal history of dental cavities she attributed to growing up drinking unfluoridated water, said the science in support of fluoridation was compelling.
She urged councillors to continue and extend the practice.
Most of the councillors spoke in favour of fluoridation, with the main debate centred on how fast the council should move to include Longburn and Bunnythorpe in the scheme.
Mayor Grant Smith said it was a “no-brainer” that the council should get the proposals into its draft plan so it could consult, and Cr Brent Barrett said the council should rectify the situation where some parts of the community were missing out on health benefits.
Cr Susan Baty said there was no urgency, as there were no calls from the village communities for fluoridation, but she supported finding out the costs.
“If the people of Longburn and Bunnythorpe want it, I would vote for it.”
Cr Vaughan Dennison said he was happy to wait for the law change to take effect before taking action.
MidCentral’s position on fluoridation, endorsed last year, was that it strongly supports water fluoridation as a safe, effective and affordable way to prevent and reduce tooth decay across the whole population.
“The benefits of community water fluoridation are most pronounced for those at risk of poor oral health,” it said.
Fluoride Free New Zealand spokeswoman Mary Byrne said the council should be using the opportunity that remained before the law change came into effect to stop fluoridation, while it still could.
“There is no harm done by stopping,” she said.
The organisation believed fluoridation was harmful and ineffective and was a huge waste of money.
Byrne said the new law was draconian, allowing district health boards to decide, without public scrutiny and consultation, to force councils to add fluoride to water supplies.
It was a farce to claim the boards would investigate the issue thoroughly, when they were bound to carry out the Ministry of Health’s policy that was steadfastly in favour of fluoridation, she said.
She said it would be hard to argue that there would be any statistical benefits for towns with small populations.