Fluoride Action Network

Rotorua councillors question safety and legality of fluoridation directive

RNZ | August 10, 2023 | By Laura Smith
Posted on August 10th, 2023
Location: New Zealand

Rotorua councillors are questioning the safety and legality behind a government directive to fluoridate the city’s water supply.

The decision on whether water should be fluoridated was removed from local government jurisdiction in 2021. Then-director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield directed Rotorua Lakes Council in July last year to fluoridate its central and eastern water supplies by 30 April next year.

Elected members voted at the beginning of the month to begin implementation of this. This involved infrastructure and design work.

But they also asked staff to gather further information from the Ministry of Health on the safety and legality of the directive.

At an Infrastructure and Environment Committee meeting on 2 August, infrastructure and environmental solutions deputy chief executive Stavros Michael outlined how the government would finance the project and the operating cost to the council would be about $160,000 a year.

Michael said members of the public “held diverse views”. Some had expressed concern after reading overseas reports on the impact of fluoridation, which the council put to the ministry.

One of these was a United States National Toxicology Program systemic review of fluoride exposure and neurodevelopmental and cognitive effects.

The initial response included that while there was some evidence high fluoride concentrations may have an adverse effect on developing brains, there was no “convincing evidence of neurological effects at fluoride concentrations achieved by fluoridation of water supplies in Aotearoa New Zealand”, a report for the council meeting said.

Michael said the directive was legally binding and needed to be in place by April otherwise there would be financial penalties. Non-compliance carried a fine of up to $200,000 and up to $10,000 per day for continuing offences.

Councillor Robert Lee noted New Health New Zealand started a judicial review in June challenging the directives. He wanted a suspension on the directive pending the outcome of this.

“We all should have a right to refuse medication.”

He wanted the public to be consulted and also wanted to ask the ministry to drop the timeframe requirements.

Trevor Maxwell said it was the third time during his time as councillor the topic of fluoridation had been discussed and each time he had voted for it to not be added to the city supply.

“I said each time it should be a decision for the Ministry of Health and the government.”

Councillor Conan O’Brien said he was not happy about supporting going ahead with fluoridation but was a “law and order sort of chap”.

He believed the ministry would advise of any change following the judicial review.

He also said it was a difficult topic for councillors to be making decisions on without a background in medicine.

“Which expert do you believe?”

Councillor Karen Barker, who chaired the meeting, did have a medical background and said the recent study earlier referred to was robust.

“The wording … is particularly strong in the fact there are noticeable links between the levels of fluoride and the IQ of children.”

If there was doubt it was safe and questions to the ministry were not answered, she said it needed time to investigate further.

“We cannot guarantee the dose each person receives. We do not know the medical status of each person receiving that water. We do not know the volumes of water each person consumes.”

She said she was not anti-fluoride but was averse to a situation where it did not know all the impacts.

Councillor Lani Kereopa said the medication of the water supply was being forced upon them. She said it breached indigenous rights on self-determination for mana whenua to be able to make decisions for wh?nau and hapu including for health and well-being.

A tax on sugar would work better in improving dental health, she said.

Councillor Rawiri Waru said it was plain and simple: “We’ve been given a directive… we are obligated to follow through.”

Michael said community consultation would have been “pointless” unless the legislation was challenged.

*Original full-text article online at: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/ldr/495540/rotorua-councillors-question-safety-and-legality-of-fluoridation-directive