As new fears over fluoride surface, GEMMA O’DOHERTY revisits the story that earned her last year’s Campaigning Journalist award
The chairman of Kildare County Council has never given a second thought to the amount of water he drinks. He takes the same amount a day as the average Irish person: a glass or two from the tap, a few mugs of tea, and a drop in the odd whiskey at night. He certainly never thought it might be doing him any harm. Until now.
Last Friday, Rainsfort Hendy received the results of a urine test he had done to measure the level of fluoride in his body. With seven other councillors from Kildare, he had agreed to take the test after a recent lecture to the council on water fluoridation by a British expert. The results found that six of them had fluoride levels high enough to cause medical concern. Chairman Hendy’s sample showed one of the highest levels, 5.4 milligrams of fluoride, almost double the recommended safe level of 3mg a day.
“I was very surprised. I had never really thought about it before but from now on I will be watching my water intake as will the other councillors who took part. This is a national issue now. What we are really concerned about is the damage it could be doing to the whole population and that there is no choice but to take fluoride because it’s in our water by law. We want this issue looked at urgently.”
With a crippled health service to worry about, Minister for Health Michael Martin must privately hope the nagging issue of water fluoridation will go away, but pressure continues to mount on the Government to bring the controversial practice to an end.
A concerted countrywide campaign is now under way demanding a stop to the mass medication of the public with fluoride in the water supply. Eight local authorities – Dublin Corporation, Sligo, Donegal, Leitrim, Longford, Kildare, Clare and Kerry, have publicly stated their opposition to fluoridation or asked the Government that they be allowed decide for themselves if they want it in their area. Under the 1960 Health Act, they are prevented from doing this.
Opposition politicians are making similar requests. Earlier this year, Fine Gael announced its intention to end water fluoridation for good if the party comes to power at the next general election.
To add to the minister’s grief, the Forum on Fluoridation which he set up in May 2000 to investigate claims of adverse health effects has been rubbished by the anti-fluoridation lobby who claim the bulk of its members are in favour of the practice. They fear it is a foregone conclusion, that when it concludes in September, the forum will recommend the continuation of fluoridation.
Today, Ireland stands alone in Europe as the only country to insist under law that drinking water contain fluoride. Seventy-three per cent of Irish drinking water contains the drug which is added to prevent dental decay. Most other countries have rejected the practice because it is considered ineffective and unsafe. Opponents of water fluoridation, which include most western governments and the largest union of scientists in the American Environmental Protection Agency, claim it is linked to cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, hip fractures and thyroid disorders.