THE NSW Minister for Health has warned Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to tread cautiously with its community poll on fluoride at the December 4 council elections.
The Minister raised concerns that council will ask residents if it wants fluoride permanently removed from the water supply, despite the fact council has not met its requirement to add fluoride for the last 18 months.
"I am advised that council temporarily ceased fluoridation of the Hastings district and Wauchope water supplies in November 2019 due to a lack of flow in the Hastings River," Minister Brad Hazzard said in a letter to mayor Peta Pinson on July 16.
"Further, I am advised that following heavy rains in early 2020, council was able to start taking water from the Hastings River and return the fluoridation systems to operation in March 2020.
"However, while council resumed fluoridation of the Wauchope drinking water supply at the Wauchope Treatment Plant on 9th April 2021, it has not recommenced fluoridation of the Hastings district water supply despite a recommendation to do so by the Public Health Unit following advice received by NSW Health from the EPA."
Council confirmed that it paused fluoridation processes in late 2019 in response to the severe drought and level 4 water restrictions. As a result, dam levels diminished considerably.
As dam levels replenished with the onset of rain, the fluoride concentration continued to drop through dilution. Council says it consulted with NSW Health and the EPA during this period.
The Minister said he shares the concerns of Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams that the public is unaware fluoride has not been added to the local water supply for over 18 months, but will be asked a community poll question which infers that fluoride is being added.
The community poll to be held in conjunction with the council elections is not compulsory and is non-binding despite the result.
It will ask residents to vote yes or no on the question 'Would you prefer that council stop adding fluoride (hydrofluorosilicic acid) to the public water supply?'.
The Minister said the question is inconsistent with other community polls on fluoride and urged council to reconsider the wording to the more commonly asked 'Do you agree with adding fluoride to the water supply to try and prevent tooth decay?'
Cr Pinson will put a motion to the August 4 council meeting to have the wording of the poll adjusted as advised by the Minister.
In February and again in April, Cr Peta Pinson used her casting vote to get the community poll across the line.
Deputy mayor Lisa Intemann said a community poll was the only way to get rigorous, truly representative results on the issue of fluoridation. Cr Intemann first raised her concerns about the purpose of fluoridating water after a meeting with a NSW Health executive in 2004.
Cr Rob Turner has attempted on several occasions to abandon the poll saying it is "not a wise use of council resources".
Despite strong opposition from a number of anti-fluoride groups, NSW Health encourages water utilities to add fluoride to water supplies.
Stewart Dowrick, chief executive of Mid North Coast Local Health District, has confirmed that support of fluoridation is based on many years of reliable evidence and the ongoing support of the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Fluoridation began in the Hastings in February 2012 after construction and completion of the fluoridation plant, which was made possible with state government funding of $1.8 million.
It now costs the council about $280,000 on average each year to add fluoride to the water supply.
The Minister strongly urged council to continue to work with NSW Health and the EPA to ensure the recommencement of fluoridation occurs as soon as possible.
Member for Port Macquarie, Leslie Williams said she is appalled that up to $90,000 will be spent on the community poll when there are many other projects across the LGA requiring urgent attention post-floods.
"Fluoridation of drinking water is a safe and effective way to help prevent tooth decay in the community which is one of the most common health problems in Australia that can have a serious impact on overall health and wellbeing," Mrs Williams said.
"It is incredibly disappointing that we are spending ratepayers money on a community poll when no matter what the outcome, the removal of fluoride from our drinking water will not be supported by NSW Health.
"Residents should be concerned that the council has not been adding fluoride to our water supply for over eighteen months and that the community has not been advised of this.
"While I understand that initially this was due to the lack of flow in the Hastings River, I am concerned that the community has not been made aware of the cessation of fluoridation despite the debate over a community poll question that infers that it is being added.
"Ongoing delays to the recommencement of fluoridated drinking water means our community and particularly young children risk the detrimental impacts of tooth decay.
"I urge the council to resume fluoridation as a matter of urgency with the support of NSW Health and the EPA.
"I again join with local health professionals and dentists to implore councillors to reconsider their support for a community poll that is a waste of valuable ratepayer funds and resources."
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