Wellington Water chair Lynda Carroll announces an independent inquiry into the fluoridation of water, and says Wellington’s water supply has not been fluoridated for up to ten months.

Campbell Barry, the Hutt City mayor and chairman of the Wellington Water committee, says he is “absolutely appalled” at the utility’s failure to fluoridate the region’s water supply for as long as ten months.

He is demanding that the facts about the failure be released as soon as possible, rather than waiting for a consultant’s report, which could be two months in the making.

“There needs to be absolute certainty around when water stopped being fluoridated,” Barry said, amid growing frustration with the utility’s lack of transparency.

Wellington Water, which is owned by the region’s councils, had been manually adding fluoride into the water supply for the past four years because the ageing machinery meant the dose was added inconsistently.

Hutt City Mayor Campbell Barry.
Ross Giblin/Stuff
Hutt City Mayor Campbell Barry.

Early last week, Wellington Water said it had not added any fluoride into the water supply for one month. But by the end of the week, Wellington Water board chairwoman Lynda Carroll admitted this was wrong, announcing that fluoride could have been absent from the water supply for almost a year.

This could have significant impacts on the oral health of people in the Wellington region, especially children in areas that already have major dental challenges. Fluoride helps protect teeth by making the enamel stronger and reducing tooth decay.

Dentists have said that the lack of disclosure means people were unable to take additional measures to protect teeth, like making sure to use fluoridated toothpaste.

It is likely to be at least nine months until fluoride is added back into the water supply.

Wellington Water has refused to release further information while the inquiry is ongoing. Asked when the managers knew and why the alert was not sounded earlier, a spokesperson for the utility said “these details are subject to the inquiry”.

But Barry – who leads the Wellington Water committee, which comprises all regional mayors except Wellington’s, with the capital being represented by Councillor Sean Rush – said that was not good enough.

He demanded that those facts come out before the end of the inquiry, which is being carried out by MartinJenkins and is expected to take until mid-May to complete.

The Te Marua water treatment plant, where fluoride dosing stopped in May 2021. (File photo)
The Te Marua water treatment plant, where fluoride dosing stopped in May 2021. (File photo)

The review is not expected to come back for eight weeks, a spokesperson for Wellington Water said. The terms of reference are still being prepared but could be expected at the end of next week.

Barry said there needed to be more transparency and accountability than that.

“We [the committee] expect more and we are holding Wellington Water’s feet to the fire,” he said.

The Wellington Water committee had not known about the failure to fluoridate any earlier than the public, Barry said. About two weeks before the information came out, the committee knew that Wellington Water was working through an issue with the regional council, but were not informed of the details.

“We had an expectation that significant information would be passed on. You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Dental experts say fluoride helps your teeth by preventing decay. (File photo)
Dental experts say fluoride helps your teeth by preventing decay. (File photo)

Barry said the “huge question” was why Wellington Water had not been able to provide accurate information about the failure to fluoridate in the first place.

The lack of information provided was “completely unacceptable”, and so was the incorrect information provided to media, Barry said. The public needed the right facts as soon as possible, he said. “The very least Wellington Water should be doing is releasing that information.”

The terms of reference for the inquiry into fluoridation had not been made public as they were still being prepared, the Wellington Water spokesperson said on Friday. The company “continues to work to restore fluoridation”.

Wellington Water is jointly owned by the Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington city councils, South Wairarapa District Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

*Original article online at https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/wellington/128165513/wellington-water-committee-chairman-absolutely-appalled-by-failure-to-fluoridate-demands-facts