PEOPLE in West Cumbria have been misled for four years about whether chemicals have been added to drinking water.
Critics are demanding answers about why the public was not told that work to add fluoride to the supply at the Cornhow water treatment works, near Loweswater, was stopped more than four years ago.
Workington MP Tony Cunningham last night called it a “scandal”.
Mr Cunningham has written to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and the chief executive of NHS North West demanding answers.
Since the late 1960s fluoride has been added to the Cornhow supply, with health bosses stating that its presence helps to help prevent tooth decay.
People have been under the impression that they have been receiving fluoride, which some opponents claim can cause health problems.
However, it has been revealed that the process stopped at Cornhow in April 2006 because United Utilities, which adds the fluoride on behalf of the health authority, needed to upgrade equipment to prevent health and safety issues for workers.
The Cornhow treatment works supply water to most of Workington, Seaton, High Harrington and Great Clifton, the coastal areas from Silloth, through Maryport, to Flimby, and inland to Cockermouth.
Salterbeck receives its water from the Ennerdale, along with much of Copeland, and that supply remains fluoridated.
The disclosure followed a spot check on the water supply of anti-fluoridation campaigner Dianne Standen. Ms Standen, co-ordinator for pressure group Cumbrians Against Fluoridation, said the NHS’s failure to inform people of the change undermined health bosses’ calls for people to take responsibility for their own wellbeing.
Ms Standen, of High Street, Maryport, said: “A lot of people go to a lot of expense to avoid taking on the extra fluoride they’re getting in the water. They won’t brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste. Some go to the expense of installing filters.”
She said the pressure group had continued its campaign calling for more research into the effects of fluoride.
The pressure group had been in correspondence with Cumbria’s director of public health Dr John Ashton but had never been told that fluoridation was not happening in part of West Cumbria.
A search of NHS Cumbria’s website by the Times & Star revealed that the health trust itself might not have been informed.
An agenda for a trust board meeting of September 2008, which featured an item about fluoridation, contains a map with the area served by the Cornhow works listed as “current area of fluoridated water”.
Workington MP Tony Cunningham, who has written letters on behalf of Cumbrians Against Fluoridation, was equally surprised to learn about the change.He said: “It is appalling that they have not been informed. If the argument is that fluoridation is of vital importance for keeping children’s teeth in good condition, I’m certain that some parents would have taken other measures if they have been told.
“It’s a scandal. If the NHS is trying to provide partnership for health a very big part of that is the public and the public needs to know what’s going on.”
A spokeswoman for NHS North West said: “We are aware that this is a cause for concern and it is not an issue that we take lightly.
“We are working closely with United Utilities to establish the exact details.”The authority hoped to make more details available to soon.
A United Utilities spokesman said: “We continue to work with the strategic health authority on a decision about when fluoridation should resume at Cornhow.”