VOTE IN OUR POLL: Should the community poll on water fluoridation go ahead at the council elections on December 4?

IT is a debate that divides – should the local water supply be fluoridated or not?

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council will run a community poll at the December 4 council elections to gauge public opinion, despite a word of caution from the NSW Minister for Health and a growing chorus of health and medical professionals who believe the discussion, and the poll, does nothing more than undermine oral health benefits, particularly for the vulnerable.

They have launched a petition opposing the poll, matched by a community education campaign.

Dr Suzanne Lyon and specialist paediatrician A/Prof Dr David McDonald say the community poll is “meaningless and fundamentally flawed”. It is not compulsory for the community to participate (vote) and non-binding for council which means no action is an option.

“We deal with the pain and suffering of vulnerable kids. Fluoride benefits the most vulnerable, the indigenous, the mentally unwell, the old and the impoverished,” A/Prof McDonald said.

“You can’t have good health without good dental health. It is appalling that something we know works and is safe, is being put at risk.

“Our councils must lead. This is just a shocking waste of money.”

Others disagree on the health benefits and raise serious health concerns.

Deputy mayor Lisa Intemann, who has championed the anti-fluoride side for more than 17 years, was supported by mayor Peta Pinson and Cr Sharon Griffiths in getting the poll across the line.

Cr Intemann said hydrofluorosilicic acid has a different source than the sodium fluoride commonly used in toothpaste and can have a different effects on the body.

Supported by groups including Fluoride Free Australia, Cr Intemann opposes water fluoridation and welcomes a community poll to gauge public opinion on the matter which can then guide future discussions with NSW Health.

“I realise the poll isn’t binding and can’t alone stop fluoridation. But it will better inform council on local opinions to guide discussions with NSW Health,” she said.

“A solid vote from people preferring to stop fluoridation would at the least empower council to advocate for an independent assessment of risks to health from water fluoridation, and the need for health warnings.”

The mayor said at the August council meeting the community has a right to have a voice on a decision that directly impacts their health.

The Minister, Brad Hazzard, reiterated to council that as the water authority, it is mandated to add fluoride to the local water supply under the direction of NSW Health. He also offered full funding for an upgraded water fluoridation dosing plant in order for council to continue to meet that requirement.

Crs Rob Turner, Geoff Hawkins and Peter Alley again argued the poll was a waste of ratepayers’ money and a matter for the state government to consider, not council.

Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams even stood by her position on the poll, saying it was an “appalling” waste of ratepayer money when there are many other projects across the LGA requiring urgent attention post-floods.

The poll is expected to cost between $65,000 and $90,000 to run.

The question, in the non-compulsory and non-binding poll to go before voters at the December 4 council elections, will now read: “Do you want Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to permanently cease adding fluoride (hydrofluorosilicic acid) to the drinking water supply”?

The Minister also raised concerns council had not met its requirement to fluoridate the local water supply for 18 months.

Council confirmed that it paused fluoridation processes in late 2019 in response to the severe drought and level 4 water restrictions. As a result, dam levels diminished considerably.

While council resumed fluoridation of the Wauchope drinking water supply at the Wauchope Treatment Plant on 9 April 2021, it had not recommenced fluoridation of the Hastings district water supply. Council said it had liaised with NSW Health and the EPA.

Both Crs Pinson, Intemann and Griffiths said the poll is an important way to gauge community opinion on fluoride once and for all.

Fluoridation began in the Hastings in February 2012 after construction and completion of the fluoridation plant, which was made possible with state government funding of $1.8 million.

Under Section 6B of the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1957, a water utility may not cease fluoridation unless the direction is revoked by NSW Health.

A local council or water utility can request that NSW Health revokes a direction to fluoridate a water supply.

In considering a request to revoke a direction, NSW Health would consider any information provided by the council.