Council challenges state on fluoridation

Gunnedah Shire Council has punted the water fluoridation issue back to the NSW Department of Public Health, telling the government it is up to them to “sell” the idea.

Gunnedah is one of only a handful of local government authorities in NSW that has not yet gone down the path of fluoridating its water.

Council has said the state government has been “persistent” in pursuing fluoridation of the water in Gunnedah.

Council last year voted to seek funding from the NSW Department of Public Health to investigate the installation of fluoride in the water supply and the costs involved.

Gunnedah Shire mayor Owen Hasler said on Friday adding fluoride to the water in Gunnedah could prove a costly exercise.

“We are different to a lot of councils in that we have a number of bores we would have to use,” Cr Hasler said.

“We have 10 bores in total and they have different types of pipelines. There is no central location, and we need to be mindful of the need to address that.”

He said council had made it “very plain” to the department they would not go down the path of fluoridation without being clear about where the funding was coming from and without a public education campaign.

“It is their responsibility to sell the program to our community,” Cr Hasler said.

“Some people – rightly or wrongly – have very strong views about it.

“We are one of only a very few of councils – 15 or 16 among 151 councils – that don’t have flouride injected into the water supply.

“There are some strong arguments against it.

“Quite clearly, 90 per cent of councils are doing it, but I don’t see that as an argument that we have run with it.”

Cr Hasler said even if the town supply was fluoridated, that would account for about three-quarters of the shire’s population.

About 9000 of the population live in town, with the rest on properties with bore water, or in the villages.

A 2009 survey of 440 Gunnedah households carried out by the Western Research Institute found about 50 per cent of people were in favour of fluoridation.

Of the remainder, 29 per cent were against fluoridation and 21 per cent were undecided.

The report noted that only 76 per cent of the respondents were actually connected to the public water supply.

Gunnedah dentist Dr Michael Jonas last year spoke out in support of fluoridation, saying research showed there were “significant benefits”.

“Basically, it is a public health initiative,” Dr Jonas said.

Council considered fluoridation in 2009 during the introduction of automatic chlorination to the water supply.

But the council decided to put the decision on hold, noting it would need “much higher community support” before further action was taken.

The NSW Department of Health has stated it would cover installation costs for fluoridation, but ongoing costs would become council’s responsibility.

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