WANGARATTA has delivered a clear message to the state government that it does not approve of fluoride being added to its town water supply without a referendum.
More than 100 members of the public packed into the GOTAFE auditorium on Tuesday night in a fiery showdown with the Victorian director of public health, Dr Robert Hall.
While Dr Hall claimed fluoridation was a safe and effective measure to improve dental health across the entire Wangaratta population, the overwhelming majority at the meeting argued against the practice.
Residents cited health and environmental risks as reasons to oppose fluoride, and objected to little consultation undertaken before introducing fluoride to the city later this year.
“I’m well past my 80th year, my house is chemical free, what gives you people the right to force medication on me when I take no medication whatsoever?” local resident, Doug Sutherland, said.
“If I don’t drink your rotten, poison water, will your organisation please give me bottled water which is free from fluoride?”
Wangaratta mother of three, Jacqueline Hancox, questioned the ethics of water fluoridation, given there were other options to improve dental health.
“We are not stopping people from accessing other methods of fluoride in tablet form, through toothpaste or through public health services,” she said.
“Is it not incumbent on the government to look for ways that equitably provide fluoride to the vulnerable population that you’re trying to target, without impinging on human rights?
“Why are people who object to this chemical being forced to take it, or in my case, being forced to go to large expense to install a reverse osmosis system so that myself and my children will not ingest what I consider to be an undesirable substance?”
Barbara Lee, also a mother of two, argued good dental health came down to a healthy diet.
“I take the responsibility for my health and the health of my children,” she said.
“That’s what I thought contributed to good, healthy teeth was a good, healthy diet and low sugar, until we address that, we are not going to be doing much at all.
“You don’t know me, but it’s almost like the government is deciding what’s best for me, so I think it’s actually taking away my personal right.”
But Dr. Hall said water fluoridation has been shown to reduce dental decay by 45 per cent in baby teeth and 38 per cent in adult teeth.
He also said dental decay was also Australia’s most common health problem.
“There are more cases where decayed teeth are an issue than of any other disease in Australia,” he said.
“It’s the second most costly of diet-related disease and it has a considerable impact on the community both in terms of the cost that people need to pay to have their teeth looked after, but also in terms of lost time (and) and suffering.
“Our opinion is that the weight of evidence is overwhelming that fluoridation of water supplies is something that will greatly benefit to the people of Victoria in terms of oral health and that this is also a safe thing for people to do.”
While acknowledging strong opposition to the proposal, Dr Hall said it was his responsibility as director of public health to ensure all Victorians had access to improved dental health.
“I understand that most of the people here have strong views against fluoride, either because you think there are safety issues around it or because you have an issue with the consultation process,” he said.
“(But) we have undertaken what we consider to be a rigorous evaluation of the role of fluoridation of water supplies as a public health measure and we think that this is an important thing that should be made available to people across Victoria.”
Ken Jasper (MLA, Murray Valley), who acted as chairperson, wrapped up the meeting by campaigning for the Wangaratta community to have a say.
“I personally believe there should be a referendum,” he said.
“I believe people need to be given the opportunity to say yes, we’ve looked at both sides of the argument, it is certainly something we’d like to proceed with.
“There’s certainly strong arguments for fluoridation. I accept that, but there are also other concerns that people have.”