Anti-fluoride activist Al Oshlack is claiming a win in the case against Rous Water, although it is far from the end of the matter.
Justice Biscoe handed down a decision on a preliminary legal matter last Thursday, ruling that Rous was required to comply with sections 111 and 112 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, with respects to the impacts of fluoride on human health and the environment. The ruling means The Fluoridation Act 1957 does not stand in isolation from the EP&A Act as was previously understood.
Or to put it in the words of Rous Water’s general manager Kyme Lavelle, “The court was being asked if a bulk water supplier that had been directed by the NSW Health Department to fluoridate a water supply had to question the government’s fluoridation policy when assessing fluoride dosing plants under environmental legislation, and the ruling was ‘yes’.”
The applicant, Al Oshlack, said the decision was “big news in the fluoride game.”
“This is causing a big stir,” he said.
In his ruling, Justice Biscoe said “if the activity is likely to significantly affect the environment, an environmental impact statement had to be examined and considered, and if the activity is likely to significantly affect threatened species or their habitats, a
species impact statement had to be prepared.”
The case will now examine whether Rous Water’s Review of Environmental Factors (REF) was adequate.
“Rous now has to defend the safety of fluoride in the water to the environment and to human health,” Mr Oshlack said. “Their senior counsel, Neil Williams, warned the judge that this case will turn into a mini Royal Commission.”
Scientific evidence from both sides will now be considered on the effects of fluoride on human health and the environment.
Five days have been set aside for the case in June but it is likely to go on much longer.
Mr Oshlack said the case was costing Rous hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and called on the constituent councils (Lismore, Ballina and Richmond Valley) to re-visit their decision to fluoridate and have a referendum on the issue.
“No one’s been asked. No one’s been consulted,” he said.
Rous Water chair Cr Richard Staples said Rous was “the meat in the sandwich” in the case.
“On one side we’ve got the Health Department pressuring us to do this thing (introduce fluoride) which the elected members of the council are ambivalent about, and both Rous and the Health Department were working under the assumption that they are not required to adhere to section 111,” he said.
Cr Staples said it was unlikely Rous’ REF would adequately comply with the requirements of the EP&A Act and that they may have to effectively start again with a full EIS.
The next Rous Water meeting is scheduled for May 18, when the council will discuss the implications of the court’s decision.
“My first question will be ‘who’s going to pay for this?’. We’re fighting someone else’s battle for them. It’s not our responsibility. It’s our role to make sure that everyone has access to safe, reliable drinking water, and we’ve been doing that for 50 years. Fluoride is not an activity that is part of our core business, it’s somebody else’s responsibility. So if we are going to fight this one, let’s get the Health Department to bank roll it,” Cr Staples said.