WATER bosses have admitted for the first time they don’t want to put fluoride in Hampshire’s supplies.
Chiefs at Southern Water have said they wouldn’t add “unnecessary chemicals” if they didn’t have to, but their hands are tied by a change in the law giving the final say to health officials.
The declaration has been hailed by anti-fluoride campaigners as further proof South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) should abandon its controversial plans to fluoridate tap water delivered to almost 200,000 people.
Until now, Southern Water had insisted it had a “neutral” opinion of the scheme, which will affect residents in two-thirds of Southampton and parts of Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams.
The firm only gave technical advice and information on the water supply system during the public consultation on the plans. But company secretary Kevin Hall has admitted in a letter to a local campaigner that the company would not add fluoride to the water if it didn’t have to.
He said: “Our position is clear that we are statutory water suppliers and our expertise lies in engineering and water treatment for this purpose.
“We would choose not to have to add chemicals that are not directly necessary for the provision of drinking water.
“However, there is a statutory process for the requirement of the addition of fluoride to drinking water we supply, and, if this is met, we have a statutory duty to comply with the requirement.
“I repeat that we have great regard to the interests of our customers.”
The law was changed in 2003 to put the decision on fluoridation in the hands of health authorities, after several schemes were scrapped by utility firms fearful of legal reprisals from upset customers.
Once SHA has made a decision to approve plans for fluoridation, which it must do following a public consultation, it can order a water firm to introduce the chemical to supplies.
The chairman of Hampshire Against Fluoridation, which has been leading the campaign fighting the Southampton scheme, last night said he welcomed the company’s position as further evidence of the opposition to the plans.
Stephen Peckham told the Daily Echo: “They’re in a sense caught between a rock and a hard place – whatever they think they’ll be forced to do what they’re told by the health authority. But I do think it’s significant that they wouldn’t do it.
“They’re a water provider. That’s their concern, not to add anything that isn’t there to make the water suitable for consumption. From that point of view, adding fluoride changes their whole role. Lots of people have written to Southern Water and I think it just shows that they are paying heed to their customers.’’ A Southern Water spokeswoman said last night the firm “cannot take a medical or ethical view” on fluoridation.
She said: “By law, if requested by a strategic health authority to add fluoride to the water supply, then we must do so.
“The decision to add fluoride was not taken by us and it is not our place to make such a decision, as stated in the letter.”
An SHA spokeswoman said last night Southern Water had been invited to comment as part of the consultation, and insisted the organisation still believes in fluoridation.