Party says people remain concerned about the chemical after court rejected campaign to stop it being added to drinking water
The New South Wales Greens will press the state government to hold a public inquiry into the safety of fluoridated water, after the NSW Court of Appeal ruled against an anti-fluoride campaigner’s bid to prevent the chemical being added to drinking water.
The court decided unanimously that Ballina Shire Council, via Rous Water, should be allowed to add fluoride to water in five processing plants across the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
Al Oshlack, who initiated legal action in 2012 to prevent fluoridation of the water, was ordered to pay the legal costs of the council and Rous Water, estimated to be around $500,000.
The NSW Department of Health had directed that fluoride be added to water supplies in the Lismore, Ballina and Richmond Valley shires. Oshlack appealed an earlier decision by the NSW Land and Environment Court to allow the fluoridation.
However, the Greens will call on the state government, which has supported the adding of fluoride to water since 1957, to hold a public review of the evidence supporting its use.
“The peer-reviewed evidence says that there are no adverse health consequences but the community on the north coast is concerned about mass fluoridation and we owe it to them to review the evidence again to be sure if it’s the right way to go,” he said.
“I’d be surprised if there were any other answer that comes out, but it’s appropriate that the government responds to community concern and is open with evidence.”
Mainstream science has broadly supported the use of fluoride, with studies pointing to its efficacy in fighting tooth decay.
A 2007 review by the Australian government’s National Health and Medical Research Council found that the “existing body of evidence strongly suggests that water fluoridation is beneficial at reducing dental caries”.
Despite this, anti-fluoride lobbies such as Queenslanders for Safe Water claim that fluoride is unnecessary and can cause skeletal problems. Activists point to alleged dangers including birth defects, reduced fertility and even cancer.
Kaye denied the Greens were indulging in “pseudo-science”, similar to climate change denialism, by calling for an inquiry.
“The weight of peer-reviewed evidence has been so in favour of fluoridation that we all became comfortable with that and didn’t hear the concerns of those against it,” he said.
“We should listen to those concerns and be comfortable with presenting the evidence, just as we are with climate change and wind turbines. The mistake would be to ignore these people.”
The Greens appear split on the issue of fluoride, with Lismore councillor Vanessa Elkins launching a Change.org petition to fight the introduction of fluoride, which will be added to the region’s water supply within the next 18 months.
“We had a fabulous dental care program in schools but that was scrapped when the NSW Health Department started lobbying for fluoride,” she said.
“It shifted the cost of dental care onto water users, meaning that we spend $200,000 on getting a chemical from China for our water that we could use for dentists in a clinic that currently has a two-month waiting list.
“There’s been quite a lot of concerning research about the impact of fluoride on skeletons. The state government made a decision in 1957 to put fluoride into water and a lot of research has taken place since then. We should have a review of that research.”
Although NSW has a statewide policy to introduce fluoride to water, councils such as Byron have opted out. In Queensland, the state government devolved decisions entirely to councils, with 15 of the state’s 73 local administrations deciding to adopt fluoride-free water so far.
A NSW Ministry of Health spokesperson would not comment on the possibility of an inquiry into fluoride, but stressed that the state government’s position was based on solid science.
“Water fluoridation is a safe, effective way of achieving community-wide exposure to the dental decay-preventive effects of fluoride,” the spokesperson said.
“An overwhelming weight of scientific evidence supports community water fluoridation as a safe and effective measure in the prevention of dental decay. It has been endorsed by numerous organisations, including the World Health Organisation and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
“Australia has relied on community water fluoridation as its main model of delivering optimal fluoride. This provides universal cavities–preventive benefits to individuals of all ages in communities.”