Several Byron Shire households face the possibility of being forced to drink fluoridated water or having their supply cut off after the discovery they live downstream of a new Clunes fluoridation plant that was intended to dose only Lismore LGA residents.
The problem, which was only discovered after construction of the Clunes dosing plant had commenced, is the subject of a briefing paper recently distributed to Lismore councillors.
According to the document, there are an unspecified number of properties in the Booyong area that are within Byron Shire but are connected to the Lismore water supply via the Clunes reservoir.
Echonetdaily believes the problem affects about eight properties that, despite being in Byron Shire, are water supply customers of Lismore.
Once fluoridation of the water supply commences these properties will also receive fluoridated water, potentially placing Rous Water in breach of the state government’s ‘direction to fluoridate’, as that applied only to the Lismore LGA.
The note says Byron council staff are now conducting surveys of the affected residents to see whether they will accept the fluoridated water or whether an alternative solution needs to be found.
Byron councillor in the dark
But that was news to Byron councillor Duncan Dey, who also sits on Rous Water County Council, yet who only heard about the issue when he was contacted by Echonetdaily for comment.
Cr Dey, who has subsequently been contacted by Rous Water, said, ‘for me the issue also goes a bit beyond what a current resident may prefer’.
‘If these water supply customers have a choice, the technical solutions could include Rous duplicating its lines and reservoirs to give those residents choice (very expensive); or offering filters to remove fluoride (very cheap but I don’t know how effective); or offering rainwater tanks (legal issues here if Rous remains responsible for the water quality),’ he said.
Cr Dey added, ‘as I’m a councillor on both, I expect reports from Rous and from Byron Council in the near future’.
He said he would be asking for a copy of Byron staff’s correspondence with the residents. ‘I’d need to know they were fully and correctly informed.’
Waste of money
The matter first came to public attention when Lismore Greens councillor Vanessa Ekins revealed it on Facebook earlier this week.
Cr Ekins, who voted against fluoridation on Lismore council said, ‘what’s been generated from this information is all these people in Lismore LGA are asking Lismore council to supply them with filters because they don’t want it either’.
Describing the situation as a ‘fiasco’, Cr Ekins added, ‘it once again raises the issue that it was the council that made the decision to fluoridate the water supply but the people were never consulted.
‘None of [the councillors] – except me- have a science degree and [they] aren’t qualified to make a decision.
‘They all stated it was their concern for small children, that convinced them to fluoridate, but when we did a population breakdown there were only a few children that fitted that criteria.
‘So if you take the $3 million for the dosing plants and $300,000 annual cost for the fluoride and puut that into education and dental care we would’ve had an incredible resource,’ Cr Ekins said.
Disconnection an option
Rous Water and Lismore City Council are looking at a number of options to deal with the situation including disconnecting all affected Byron shire residents from the water supply or disconnecting only those who do not wish to receive fluoridated water.
They are also considering: supplying filters to remove fluoride from the water supply to individual properties; construction of a separate main to supply unfluoridated water to those properties; or supplying them with water tanks.
Cr Dey said the issue demonstrated a ‘lack of care’ by Rous Water.
‘[Byron] council has had a position of opposing fluoridation for four to five years,’ he told Echonetdaily, adding that to discover it this far down the track was as ‘an absolute oversight’.
He said the failure of council staff to brief him was ‘devastating’.
Cr Dey said residents of the shire ‘have the right to be protected from fluoride and if anyone is concerned I will take it up with the authorities. They should contact me – all my contacts are on the council’s website.’
Rous Water GM Kyme Lavelle told Echonetdaily the issue was a matter for Lismore and Byron councils to resolve.
‘Our customers are the councils: they’re the ones who retail the water to residents,’ he said.
‘It’s not a matter we would be involved with in terms of solutions, although we will be part of the processes of trying to resolve the issue.’
He acknowledged that Rous County Council members, including Cr Dey, had yet to be briefed on the issue. This, he said, would happen at Rous’s next council meeting later in the month.