An imminent legal battle over fluoridating water supplies in Patea and Waverley could open a can of worms for councils across the country.
Christchurch-based New Health New Zealand director David Sloan said the group was seeking a judicial review because they believed the South Taranaki District Council did not have the authority to fluoridate.
Late last year, the council voted 10-3 to put the chemical in the town’s water supply, opting to vote with the weight of medical evidence.
The council received 508 submissions on the issue. A total of 345 did not want it introduced, and 163 were for the idea.
“They just don’t have the jurisdiction to do this,” Mr Sloan said.
“Our councils should be held accountable, if you do something illegal you get pinged for it.”
The application has been made to the High Court at New Plymouth, but a date for a hearing is yet to be set down.
Mr Sloan said they were focusing on South Taranaki because it was adding the chemical to a previously untreated supply.
Council chief executive Craig Stevenson said the legal action could be an opportunity to get a definitive ruling on the practice “once and for all”.
“That is because the plaintiffs are not taking the usual route and challenging our process,” Mr Stevenson said.
“Instead they are asking for a ruling on the legal right for a council to add fluoride to water supplies.
“In addition they are invoking the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which deals with the right to refuse to undergo medical treatment.”
He said the council would defend its decision but would be seeking financial assistance from central government.
“Unfortunately, when you go to the High Court, you get no change from $100,000 but costs could easily be as high as $200,000.
“We don’t think it is fair that our ratepayers should foot the bill for a judicial review which challenges all councils’ legal rights to make such a decision.
“For this reason we are seeking financial support from Local Government NZ and the Ministry of Health.”
Early last year the Stratford District Council voted to fluoridate its water, while the New Plymouth District Council voted to remove fluoride from its water last year.