James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

First water objectors considered 'nutters', says councillor

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Hamilton city councillor Dave Macpherson remembers submissions from disgruntled locals against fluoride in their water in the late 1990s.

"You could probably loosely call them the usual suspects - just a few locals for the first three or four years. People thought they were nutters at the time or quite obsessive and some of these people are still submitting."

In 2006, a referendum on water fluoridation drew 38 per cent of Hamilton City voters, 70 per cent of whom voted to keep fluoridation.

But Mr Macpherson said the anti-fluoride movement was undeterred and continued to grow every year, with more voices, including scientists, medical professionals and nurses, adding their names to the pile of submissions landing on council desks.

The referendum, which cost $160,000, was not binding, but Mr Macpherson said the issue could not be ignored.

Last year the Hamilton City Council ditched a proposed referendum planned for this year in favour of a tribunal process which was cheaper at about $3000 and considered fairer.

"With the referendum campaign [in 2006] there were huge complaints from the anti-fluoride people that the DHB spent megabucks running a professionally produced campaign getting people to vote to keep fluoride," said Mr Macpherson.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said evidence from "experts on both sides of the fence" provided a good basis for the eight councillors to make their decision, which was seven to one for fluoridation to cease.

"I think it's a good decision for Hamilton having weighed up all the things that were put in front of us and everything I have read. What became apparent was that equally qualified people presented on both sides so even within the dental profession there were different views."

The council will save about $48,000 a year from non-fluoridation.

Hamilton began adding artificial fluoride to its water supply in 1966 to fight tooth decay and improve dental health.

It is said to save more than $1 million in dental care costs.

- NZ Herald

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