HEALTH CHIEFS are today one step closer to adding fluoride to Southampton’s tap water supply.
They have agreed to launch a £178,000 three-month public consultation into the controversial plan.
Those supporting the scheme say that it could be the solution to the city’s poor dental health record.
But campaigners have vowed to fight the plan to add what they describe as “poison” to South-ampton’s water supply.
They say a scheme to top up levels of fluoride in tap water delivered to two-thirds of the city’s households could cause side effects including cancer and brain damage.
During the consultation, residents will get the chance to hear the arguments for and against fluoridation at public meetings, while views will be gathered through questionnaires.
Dangerous’ The board of the South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA), which oversees the region’s healthcare, yesterday agreed residents should be consulted on the scheme.
But the controversial plans have caused anger among campaigners who say the evidence in favour of adding fluoride is flawed.
Hampshire Against Fluorid-ation is a group dedicated to fighting the scheme, arguing it can cause skeletal fluorosis, brittle bones, brain damage, bone cancer, thyroid problems and hypersensitive reactions.
“It is a poison – that’s its only status in UK law,” the group’s treasurer, Peter Richards told the Daily Echo last night.
“It comes out somewhere between lead and arsenic for toxicity. It’s hugely dangerous stuff.
“Our bodies can only excrete half of it, and the rest gets stored in body tissue, particularly bones.
“There can only be one reason to fluoridate and that’s if it is effective in improving children’s dental health. It’s been proven over and over again that it doesn’t work.”
His organisation is affiliated to the National Pure Water Association, and both plan to vigorously oppose the scheme during the public consultation, which is expected to start in August.
John Graham, the association’s vice chairman, told the SHA board that adding anything to the water supply would be against European law.
He said the Convention on Human Rights says all citizens must give their informed individual consent before receiving medication, and must be free to withdraw that permission at any time.
Mr Graham also argued that if anyone were to fall ill as a direct result of the added fluoride they could take those responsible for putting it there to court.
“It constitutes an assault,” he said.
“Water companies carrying out that will be guilty of an act of battery, and criminal charges could result if people suffer.”
The association says there is little scientific evidence to show the benefits of fluoridated water, and worries that proof of other side- effects has been covered up.
“Fluoridation is fundamentally wrong,” said Mr Graham.
Health bosses last night defended the scheme and welcomed the decision for a public consultation to go ahead.
Dr Jeyanthi John, a Southamp-ton PCT dental public health consultant, said fluoridation could drastically improve the state of the city’s teeth.
Preventable “We compared Shirley in Southampton with Shirley in Solihull, because they are very similar areas with vastly different dental health,” she said.
“The only difference was water fluoridation.
“If this benefits so many people, why should we deny the people of Southampton those benefits?
“It is totally unacceptable in the 21st century that we have an entirely preventable disease that we allow people to suffer from.”
Details of the public consultation will now be finalised before the SHA board’s July meeting.
The exercise, which the SHA insists will be thorough and fair, is expected to begin in mid-August, and must run for at least 12 weeks.
Once residents’ feedback has been independently assessed, the board will decide whether to give fluoridation the green light in January 2009.
“It must be emphasised that no decision to fluoridate water supplies has been taken,” said Professor John Newton, Regional Director of Public Health.
“It is important that before any decision is made, everyone who lives and works in the area has the opportunity to look at the available facts and have their say.”
The Daily Echo requested confirmation from the SHA that the scheme would be dropped if the public consultation shows residents are opposed to it, and also why four identified priority areas would not receive fluoridated water under the proposals. At the time of going to press we had not received a response.