In a landmark decision, Lismore City Council voted by a narrow margin last night to keep its water supply fluoride free.
The gallery was packed for the debate and public access time was inundated with community members concerned about possible fluoridation.
In an unusual turn of events, no councillor spoke against Greens Cr Vanessa Ekins’s motion to advise Rous Water to not go ahead with fluoridation of Lismore water, even though mayor Dowell, Crs Schiebl, Marks and Meineke voted against (Cr Ritchie absent).
Cr Battista questioned the impact of using fluoridated water on organic farms. He asked Cr Bennett, who is a certified organic farmer, whether his certification would be affected by using water with fluoride in it. Cr Bennett was unable to verify this information on the spot.
Lismore, along with other Rous Water members Byron and Ballina, was instructed to fluoridate the LGA’s water supply by the state government some years ago. Byron Shire Council refused to fluoridate but Ballina and Lismore voted to introduce fluoridation as they believed they were under an obligation to do so.
But the process was delayed by a series of court challenges by anti-fluoride campaigner Al Oshlack. While the Land and Environment Court ultimately ruled against Mr Oshlack, it did leave the door open for Council to again vote on the issue.
‘We are on new territory. This is the first time that a council can make a democratic decision without being told what to do regarding fluoridation,’ Mr Oshlack told Council last night.
Cr Ekins sits on the Rous Water Board and not only queried the effectiveness of fluoride on dental health, but challenged the approach to it.
‘When we first discussed this at Rous in 2006 we were quite concerned about the impurities in the industrial by-product used for fluoridation, which numbered thirty,’ Cr Ekins said.
‘We asked the Health Department for an analysis of what was in there, which included cadmium, lead and mercury, for example. We also asked for evidence that it was okay to put in the water supply, and of its impact to human health and the environment.
‘They sent us a one-page letter referring to a desktop study that was done twenty years ago.
‘There are over two hundred thousand peer-reviewed published journal articles about the toxicology of fluoride, which includes impacts on developmental neuro-toxicology, thyroid, kidney function, skeletal impacts etc.
‘Fluoride accumulates in the body with adults excreting about sixty per cent a day while young infants store eighty per cent in their bones.
‘What we need is better education on diet and oral care and cheap dentists! Research shows that one in three families can’t afford to go to the dentist.’
Cr Ekins received a roaring round of applause from the packed gallery.
Cr Meineke questioned council staff, ‘If we change course now, would we be charged some costs by Rous Water, considering the large amount of money they spent in court?’ Council staff replied they ‘could not speak on behalf of Rous’.
Cr Clough reinforced the difficulty he had in making his decision.
‘There is a civil rights argument. You can’t choose not to drink the fluoride in the water without expensive filtering systems; it’s undetectable and not easily measured by the individual.
‘There is significant research that shows it can have impact on dental caries. But [to] the argument that because it has been around for fifty years it [must be] safe, I would like to say that I remember when it was “safe” to put mercury in amalgams in our teeth. Things do change over time and we get more information about things.
‘Another problem is we cannot measure the dose, and we are taking fluoride through other means, like toothpaste and even black tea. Some of the most popular medications such as Celebrex, Prozac and Lipitor have significant amounts of fluoride, around thirteen to seventeen per cent!
‘So you are at a high risk if you are already having it. It is also impacts Type II diabetes and adverse affects on thyroid function, particularly if the person does not have adequate iodine intake.’
Cr Clough also received a round of applause to which mayor Dowell added, ‘I let the first round of applause go’.
Members of the gallery spoke to Echonetdaily after the decision:
Ilga – ‘I am glad the voice of the community is finally being heard by Council’.
Annette – ‘It’s great we have joined most of the world and not fluoridated Lismore’.
Peter – ‘I have relatives who have bad kidney health, like with half a kidney left, and they cannot have fluoride so I am so thankful that they do not now have to try to get it out’.
Lee – ‘Thank God for democracy; this is the best thing that could happen’.
Robert – ‘A wonderful decision’.
Miles – ‘I am over the moon with the decision’.
Felda – ‘The right decision happened tonight; it happened easily’.