VOTE IN OUR POLL: Should the community poll on water fluoridation go ahead at the council elections on December 4?
DOCTORS, dentists and specialist health professionals have launched a petition against Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's decision to proceed with a community poll on water fluoridation.
The petition has received widespread support within the health sector. The petition will be complemented by a community education campaign supported by the Australian Dental Association, making clear their message about the benefits of fluoride for lifelong oral health.
Doctors from Port Macquarie's Westside Medical Centre are concerned at the direction taken by mayor Peta Pinson and deputy mayor Lisa Intemann to continue to advocate for a community poll.
The debate went before the August council meeting after Minister for Health Brad Hazzard suggested a change to the wording of the poll so it was more consistent with other polls held on the issue across the state.
The Minister reiterated to council that as the water authority, it is mandated to add fluoride to the local water supply under the direction of NSW Health. He also offered full funding for an upgraded water fluoridation dosing plant in order for council to meet that requirement.
Crs Rob Turner, Geoff Hawkins and Peter Alley again argued the poll was a waste of ratepayers' money and a matter for the state government to consider, not council.
The poll is expected to cost between $65,000 and $90,000 to run.
The mayor again used her casting vote to get the poll across the line. Cr Intemann was also successful in having the scientific term for fluoride, hydrofluorosilicic acid, included in the poll question.
The question, in the non-compulsory and non-binding poll to go before voters at the December 4 council elections, will now read: "Do you want Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to permanently cease adding fluoride (hydrofluorosilicic acid) to the drinking water supply"?
It is not the question recommended by the Minister.
Both Crs Pinson, Intemann and Griffiths said the poll is an important way to gauge community opinion on fluoride once and for all.
Medical centre spokesperson Dr Suzanne Lyon said she is among many of her colleagues who disagree, saying the community poll is "meaningless and fundamentally flawed".
"The doctors argue that our community accepts many public health measures which do not require expensive polls in order for them to be implemented. These include mandatory seatbelts, motorcycle helmets and the fortification of bread flour with iodine and folate to prevent neural tube defects in babies," Dr Lyon said.
"The wording of the poll implies that water fluoridation is dangerous.
"Exhaustive reviews completed multiple times over the course of the past 20 years by Australia's peak research body, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), have shown and continue to confirm that water fluoridation is a safe and effective way to improve the oral health of the entire community."
Dr Lyon is particularly concerned by the revelation council had not met its requirement to fluoridate the local water supply for 18 months.
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.
While council resumed fluoridation of the Wauchope drinking water supply at the Wauchope Treatment Plant on 9 April 2021, it had not recommenced fluoridation of the Hastings district water supply. Council said it had liaised with NSW Health and the EPA.
"Burying this information deep in (council's) website and then claiming the community has been informed is not even close to transparency. NSW Health is currently offering to pay the entire cost of updated facilities in order to properly fluoridate the water supply but the mayor refuses to engage with this offer until her non-enforceable poll is held," Dr Lyon said.
The group has requested a review of the information published on council's website which they say is "misleading and inaccurate".
"The claim from some councillors that residents have not had a choice about fluoridation is also false. For those who continue to hold unfounded concerns about fluoridated water, there is always the option of using water filters or of drinking bottled water," Dr Lyon added.
"For those of us who wish to reap the benefits of fluoridation for our children, and for ourselves as adults, there is no option, apart from a trip to Wauchope with some jerry cans."
Dr Lyon said it is an "unacceptable abrogation of the council's important role in maintaining public health".
They call on the responsible politicians to step in and stop the community poll.
"Our doctors recommend that ratepayers ask careful questions of each of the candidates at the upcoming council election in order to ascertain their willingness to support water fluoridation, rather than be influenced by anti-scientific nonsense. We urge ratepayers to then cast their votes wisely to support this critical public health measure."
Dr Lyon said evidence shows that water fluoridation is particularly effective for children and socially disadvantaged groups.
This is supported by A/Prof Dr David McDonald, a specialist paediatrician who said the fluoride debate dangerously undermines the oral health benefits for vulnerable people.
"It's a done deal in terms of the science and the benefits and that is being put at risk here," A/Prof McDonald said.
"We deal with the pain and suffering of vulnerable kids. Fluoride benefits the most vulnerable, the indigenous, the mentally unwell, the old and the impoverished.
"You can't have good health without good dental health.
"It is appalling that something we know works and is safe, is being put at risk.
"Our councils must lead. This is just a shocking waste of money."
Cr Intemann, who has championed the anti-fluoride debate for more than 17 years, said she empathised with those signing the petition in the belief they are defending something good.
She implored people to consider all the facts.
"Seventeen years ago, I probably would have signed myself, but what I've learnt since then prevents me," Cr Intemann said.
"I support the community poll because the question is sound, and the published evidence - studiously ignored by rusted-on authorities - is proof without much question that fluoridation is neither dentally beneficial nor safe for any population sector or age, especially for a lifetime.
"Do the petition-signers know, for instance that the NHMRC has itself admitted that, in the entire 70 years of fluoridation, it has never funded a single study into potential adverse health effects? Safe? Not likely given the evidence from overseas.
"The archaic 1957 NSW Fluoridation Act is not set in stone, and is possibly even unlawful today.
"The community poll could be an important step to that law's unravelling, and for science, transparency and importantly our health, should be allowed to go ahead to get the people's view."
It costs the council about $280,000 on average each year to add fluoride to the water supply.
Cr Pinson said at the August council meeting the issue has "absolutely rattled" the community and has polarised views for too long. A community poll she said, is not about determining an 'either or' position, but simply an engagement piece to give the community a voice.
"Unless we know what people are thinking, how are we able to make decisions, especially a decision as important as the addition of a chemical to drinking water on their behalf," Cr Pinson said.
"Our community has changed over last decade. We haven't engaged with our community in relation to this. We were in administration and there was no-one to make the decision on behalf of the residents.
"Although, the community back in those days actually did say they did not want fluoride added. NSW Health through the state government directed council to do that."
Cr Pinson said regardless of the cost, the election is the most appropriate time to gauge community opinion.
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