Christchurch city councillors have laid down a clear marker that they don’t want to fund the “gobsmackingly eye watering” costs of fluoridating the city’s water.
Instead, they say the Government should.
The council also wants health officials to explain what other alternatives have been looked at for applying fluoride to children’s teeth.
Christchurch is facing the prospect of being ordered by health officials to fluoridate the city’s water and pay for it.
In December, current director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield told the council to start preparing to fluoridate water, and requested an expected timeline and cost. He has not officially directed the council to fluoridate yet.
Council estimates, revealed last week, said adding fluoride in Christchurch would take six to eight years and cost $63 million. The infrastructure would also take nearly $3m a year to operate and maintain.
Associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall has said the council has to pay these costs.
Some Christchurch city councillors say the city’s unique situation with its infrastructure has been overlooked by Wellington.
For example, Auckland can fluoridate their water from just six locations thanks to a centralised water system design. But Christchurch has a different and more complex setup – so fluoride would have to be added in 50 locations.
On Wednesday, Christchurch city councillors unanimously agreed that if the Government directs the council to fluoridate, the Government should fund all the related costs.
The council says it is more focused on investing in infrastructure upgrades that will ensure the water is safe to drink.
Councillors have instructed council chief executive Dawn Baxendale to ask the director-general about “all alternative options” that have been considered for fluoridating children’s teeth.
Councillor and mayoral hopeful Phil Mauger questioned on Wednesday whether it would be more affordable to fund the supply of fluoride tablets for Christchurch schools.
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel is also going to seek a meeting with the director-general to discuss the city’s situation, although Dalziel said she wants to get more advice first before she makes the request.
Dalziel said if Christchurch was directed to fluoridate, “this would be the most substantial unfunded mandate ever”.
“It’s a health issue, the decision is made by a health official, these are health benefits, and that’s where the funding should come,” Dalziel said.
She said the council needed to advocate “very strongly” for the Government to pay the costs.
Yani Johanson said the Ministry of Health was out of touch and completely oblivious to the situation in Christchurch.
Pauline Cotter, who chairs the council’s three waters committee, described the estimated fluoridation costs as “gobsmackingly eye watering”.
“I really hope the director-general treats us differently … and actually looks at that cost and perhaps looks very closely at other alternatives,” she said.
The director-general’s request for the estimated costs and timeline of fluoridation were the first part of a process he has to go through before issuing a direction to fluoridate.
The director-general is also required to consider whether the benefits of adding fluoride outweigh the costs.
Adding fluoride to water supplies is a measure to help prevent tooth decay – and it makes a “significant difference”, according to the Ministry of Health.
A 2016 report commissioned by the ministry found fluoridation in Canterbury could save between $106m and $318m in dental costs over 20 years – and that fluoridation during that period would only cost between $15m and $46m.
A 2020 study by public dental health researchers said the poor oral health of Canterbury children was an “ongoing paediatric health crisis” and that children living in non-fluoridated areas were 20 per cent more likely to have tooth decay.
* Christchurch infrastructure design makes fluoridation ‘cost significantly more’
* Fluoridation for healthier teeth in Christchurch tops $60m – and could be eight years away
* Fluoridating Christchurch water to cost over $60m and take three years, council says
* Former health board boss considers entering Christchurch’s mayoral race