Story and photo Melissa Hargraves
A move to once again try to stop the controversial plan by Rous Water to add fluoride and other chemicals to Lismore’s water supply will be debated by Lismore City councillors tomorrow night.
The community is clearly divided over its implementation, with doubt over fluoride’s effectiveness in preventing tooth decay and the economics of putting it in town water to achieve it.
A recent court decision gave Rous Water the green light to proceed building fluoride dosing plants.
Cr Vanessa Ekins says the issue has been visited on the community several times with protests and petitions against fluoridation.
Cr Ekins is putting up a notice of motion for Rous Water not to introduce fluoride into the water supply given the lack of evidence of community support.
The debate extends beyond fluoride as the chemical compound commonly used to fluoridate water is hydrofluosilicic acid and contains up to thirty compounds including heavy metals.
The product is mainly produced as a highly toxic waste product from the phosphate fertiliser industry, which in itself has major environmental implications.
‘Regardless of which product is chosen for fluoridating the water supply, none of them are pharmaceutical grade fluoride,’ Cr Ekins told Echonetdaily, ‘and all of them are by-products from the fertiliser industry.’
In 2006 LCC made a controversial decision to advise Rous to go ahead with fluoridation despite public protest.
‘Rous then went through a review of environmental factors which was completely inadequate and did not address the impact of fluoride on human health or the downstream environment,’ Cr Ekins said.
A recent ruling by the Land and Environment Court (LEC) case and an upcoming Rous Water tendering process for the construction of the fluoride dosing plant has made the upcoming LCC decision pertinent.
‘Up until recently we as a council were under the impression that once the government had approved for us to put fluoride in the water that we couldn’t do anything unless we repealed the 1957 Fluoridation of the Water Supply Act via a member of state government.
‘The recent LEC case where Al Oshlack took Rous Water to court believing that the process of imposing fluoridation was questionable, one of the rulings was that it is still the local council’s decision whether we go ahead or not, so that information is only a few weeks old.
‘If Rous go ahead and award a contract, it could be very costly to get out of – which I am trying to avoid.’
Cr Ray Houston believes that the upcoming LCC decision has already been made and legislated for.
‘I support the original motion that the last council voted in, as per instruction from the Department of Health to fluoridate our water and I am reluctant to overturn it,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘I grew up in Sydney where I saw fluoridated water in my lifetime and have had no ill effects from it and saw a marked increase in dental health of young children.
‘I have read articles from both sides, there is as much evidence that it is as useful as it is harmful.’
Cr Simon Clough finds the issue complex.
‘At this point I am voting against fluoridating our water,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘There are a range of things like the social justice issues about the involuntary imposition on people but at the same time it appears to be beneficial to some people in terms of decreasing tooth decay.
‘Whether this is the best means rather than public dental health or school education programs, I am not so sure.
‘There is a lot of wild information about fluoride which doesn’t help. I have seen recent studies which show it does improve dental health, but just making teeth better is not the whole story.’
Cr Clough referred to a case in Brisbane in 2007 where the ‘town water supply was being overdosed for three weeks before it was picked up. It affected people’s health and a lot of pets died.’
Former mayor and councillor of LCC from 1991-2008 Dr Ros Irwin told Echonetdaily that in her extensive research she feels without doubt, that Lismore should not fluoridate their water supply.
‘This is validated by the fact that many countries that have previously fluoridated are now removing it. I am aware that fluoride may be beneficial only when applied topically to second teeth in a certain age category.
‘But to have everyone in the community having it is outrageous. It is very clear already that there are people in the community where fluoride would be very dangerous… I am one of them.
‘I have Hashimodo’s disease, a thyroid disease. People who have diseases of the thyroid, renal diseases and babies should not be having fluoride. You cannot mass medicate people – there should be the express permission from the individual.’
Removing fluoride from water is difficult and requires advanced filtering such as reverse osmosis which is expensive. At this point provisions for these systems have not been made by LCC, Rous Water or the state government to remove the fluoride for at risk groups, particularly if they are in a low socio-economic category.
Having experience on council managing public resources, Dr Irwin believes the whole fluoridation process makes ‘no financial sense at all’ and there are ‘no provisions for impacts on health’.
‘There is currently no affordable dental health care for the part of the community that the fluoride lobby is targeting. The huge amounts of money going into fluoride dosing and its ongoing costs should be directed toward accessible dental health care and public school education.
‘A dental health scheme like Medicare would benefit public dental health standards, more economically and medically than dosing the whole population.
‘If you look at the legislation, the state government has made it very clear that it cannot have any class actions made against it regarding fluoridation. It has protected itself and I am not sure that local government is protected.
‘Dental health is a state government responsibility and should not come from ratepayers.’
Cr Isaac Smith is leaning toward not supporting fluoridating Lismore water and also believes that it is a ‘really inefficient way to allocate resources to people who need them.
‘It is ridiculous for a state government to force local government or a water authority to look after the dental health of its residents by increasing their water costs.’
Cr Gianpiero Battista had not made a conclusive decision and has many questions surrounding the upcoming LCC decision.
‘I want to look at the costs more thoroughly, how much would it cost to provide more dental visits or education. As for what happens to the ninety-eight percent that we don’t intake, does that mean that cows downstream have great teeth?’
Cr Graham Meineke is in favour of fluoridation of water supplies.
‘If fluoride was a problem all the people in Sydney would be dead!’
Cr Neil Marks supports Cr Meineke’s opinion and told Echonetdaily that he has ‘always said it – fluoride is a good thing because it looks after those people who can’t, don’t or won’t look after their dental health.
‘We have been provided with plenty of information. I have twenty hours of reading just on the fluoride decision. I must say that it isn’t anything new – these issues have been faced everywhere and have been dealt with.
‘I am disappointed that we are even revisiting this, it has been debated long and hard with no new real information since then (2006). It has only come forward because of the Green’s conspiracy theorists that they (the Greens) seem to have a bent against this.’
Public consultation is an area that Dr Irwin observes is a huge failing of locally elected representatives.
‘There has been no consultation on this, no referendum or poll, no attempt! The majority of councillors are prepared to make decisions that have health implications and negative impacts on a lot of people.
‘I was on council when fluoride was considered and I have never supported it and found it very offensive that councillors supported it, including I must say, current mayor Jenny Dowell.
‘She said it publically that the only people who were opposed to it where basically “loopy” people which I find upsetting. Most people I know who oppose fluoride are far from loopy and believe that if there is doubt, don’t do it!
‘People might think that they are getting a naturally-occurring fluoride added into their water when they are not. If the people who produce this chemical compound had to dispose of it, it would virtually be impossible to do so as it is hazardous waste!’
Lee Ryan lives locally and organised a petition which opposes fluoridation in Lismore’s water supply.
‘I started the petition around twelve months ago. Since Al Oshlack lost his case with Rous Water a lot more people have wanted to add their voice.
‘There are many people who are knowledgeable about this debate and concerned about how they will be able to avoid it.
‘We only drink a small amount of water (2%) that comes out of the tap – the rest goes down the drain so it seems a bit overkill!
‘Because of the threat of coal seam gas contaminating our water quality, more people are now aroused to what water quality really means to them.’
Anti-fluoride campaigner Al Oshlack confirmed to Echonetdaily that local councillors were previously legally intimidated surrounding fluoride decisions.
‘Rous Water paid over $20,000 for legal advice that said not only was it mandatory to fluoridate but councillors may be liable for penalties. The Court of Appeal has now told them that advice was legally erroneous and councillors can vote how they see fit, which is a big change as they were being stood over.
‘According to Mr Oshlack, Lismore has up until recently been anti-fluoride which went across the political spectrum.
‘At last LCC have the opportunity to show where they stand on this issue. We are still paying for that previous vote which was influenced by intimidating illegal letters where the result hinged on one vote! Other councils have experienced the same intimidation.’
Fluoride dosing plants commonly experience systemic breakdowns.
‘Through Freedom of Information (FOI) we have seen evidence that there has been a number of total systemic breakdowns and incorrect dosing calibration. So not only is fluoridation unsafe, but the machinery which administers it is also faulty and unsafe,’ Mr Oshlack said.
‘And we never hear about it! The least LCC can do is give us a plebiscite.’
A fluoride information evening will be held at the Lismore Workers Club this Thursday at 6.30pm.