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Protest against fluoride in water planned

Waitaki App

Ashley Smyth

19 June 2024, 10:59 PM

Protest against fluoride in water planned Fluoride will be in Ōamaru's main water supply from June 30. Photo: Pixabay/Henryk Niestroj

A protest against the impending fluoridation of Ōamaru’s water supply is being held on Tuesday (June 25).

Fluoride Free Waitaki spokesperson Sheryl Black says the central government is “holding a giant stick” by enforcing a directive on the Waitaki District Council to fluoridate its main water supply by June 30.

The protest will begin outside Scotts Brewery at 12 noon, and end at the Waitaki District Council steps. 

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher has agreed to meet and talk with protesters, Sheryl says.

Waitaki is one of 14 New Zealand councils told it must add fluoride to its main Ōamaru water supply by the end of the month. 

This will mean a 9% increase in New Zealanders receiving fluoride in their water supply, taking the national total to 60%. Many councils already add fluoride to their water.

Ōamaru, Ardgowan, Weston, Enfield, Kakanui, Maheno, Herbert, Hampden and Moeraki are all on the Ōamaru water supply.

Sheryl knows not everybody in the Waitaki district is against the directive made by the Director-General of Health Diana Sarfati, but Fluoride Free Waitaki believes people should have a choice.

“The fact that they’re putting it in the water is making it not a choice,” she says.

While she knows the Waitaki District Council is not to blame for a decision made by central government, she feels like it should be “supporting the community to come up with some solutions”.

“The council needs to educate and warn the vulnerable people in our community about the harms,” Sheryl says. 

But a council spokesperson says Dr Sarfati has outlined that the directive has been made “following consideration of peer-reviewed scientific studies that show the health benefits of adding fluoride to water supplies”.

The council has to follow the law, the spokesperson says.

Sheryl suggests people wanting to avoid fluoridation can perhaps pool their finances to pay for an alternative water source, or a filter.

“There are reverse osmosis systems and things like that. Yes, they're expensive, but not when you divide that into thousands of people . . . and, you know, we raise money for all sorts of things in our community.

“Raising a bit of money for what people are really concerned and care about . . . it's funny, you know people put money in the hat for lots of things and clean water is fundamental to everything.”

Sheryl says she never expected to be the mouthpiece for this issue, but she wants to set an example for her children.

“I just said to the kids, I don't want to show them that I just sit here and do nothing about something that we all feel strongly about.

“I want to set an example that we have to do something. We have to try. Even if it doesn't work, it's better to know that you tried.” 

The council says the processes and equipment are being put in place to start adding the fluoride from the end of June.

The cost to do so is more than $500,000, including construction of the building required to house the necessary equipment, which is being fully funded by Manatū Hauora (Ministry of Health), following an application made by council.

The ongoing cost of adding fluoride to the supply will be around $40,000 and included in the Water Treatment Plant operating budgets.

The council has no plans or budget to establish a separate supply, it says.

According to the Manatū Hauora website, a 2014 report by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor found “the scientific issues raised by those opposed to fluoridation are not supported by the evidence”.

The report also notes that “it is important to distinguish between effects of apparent fluoride toxicity at very high intakes, and effects that may occur at the much lower intakes from [community water fluoridation]. 

“Some studies have failed to do so, giving rise to potentially misleading statements and confusion.”

A review of the report in 2021 found it was still relevant, and community water fluoridation is also significantly more cost effective than other public health measures aimed at improving oral health.

Data for children aged 0-12 in the Southern District Health Board from 2022 show that 32% of children had experienced tooth decay by age five. 

New Zealand's most recent national oral health survey shows, on average, 40% less tooth decay was experienced among children living in communities with fluoridated water, compared with children living in communities without fluoridated water.

Sheryl says she doesn’t want Tuesday's protest to turn into “everyone ranting at council” because that's not going to achieve anything. 

“The council have tried, and I don't think it's going to stop the fluoride.

“I don't think that's what we're trying to do now. We want to figure out how we can avoid the harms, and also just express outrage to the government, like, this is ridiculous. 

“We don't want this, we need a choice. I mean, they’re taking away that choice, so now we need to figure out solutions.”

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