SOUTHAMPTON councillors have taken their first chance to grill experts on both sides of one of the most contentious debates to face the city in years.
Members of the city council’s Water Fluoridation Inquiry heard council executives, dentists and health chiefs tell them the controversial scheme should be backed as a vital opportunity to reduce tooth decay.
They also heard from anti-fluoridation campaigners, including a barrister and a dentist, that the process could bring dangerous side effects for residents’ dental and general health, is unethical, and could be illegal.
During the five-hour meeting, the six councillors on the Healthy City Scrutiny Panel heard impassioned presentations from more than a dozen speakers before asking them questions.
It was the first of two evidence-gathering sessions, which will see the panel produce an “independent and balanced” report to go before the full council in November.
Councillors will then decide if they are in favour of the scheme to add fluoride to the tap water of 160,000 city residents, and another 36,000 in Eastleigh, Totton and Netley, from 0.08 parts per million to one part per million.
Those views will be passed on to South Central Strategic Health Authority – the body which is overseeing the current public consultation on fluoridation and will have the ultimate say on the plans – but there is no obligation for the opinions to be taken on board.
The plans have been proposed by Southampton City Primary Care Trust, headed by director of public health, Dr Andrew Mortimore, who believes fluoridation would improve dental health, which is particularly bad in more deprived areas.
“When I look at this city there’s almost a tale of two cities to be told,” he said, saying fluoride can reduce inequalities because it requires no public participation.
“Look at this as something of an opportunity to grasp. Today we have a fresh opportunity to make a significant improvement in public dental health – we are on that threshold.”
But anti-fluoride campaigners argue there is no way of checking how much fluoride is actually going into people’s bodies because it is present in other food and drinks, and more research is needed.
“There’s a big gamble here. Fluoride could damage the growing tooth systematically without damaging any other growing tissue such as the bones, the brain or the endocrine system,” said John Spottiswoode, chairman of Hampshire Against Fluoridation.
The second inquiry meeting will be held on October 13.