Concerns from the community about water fluoridation have led the Western Bay of Plenty District Council to seek an exemption from the mandate.
Manatū Hauora – Ministry of Health has directed the council to fluoridate two of its eight water supplies, Athenree and Wharawhara, by July 31, 2025.
Those water supplies cover Waihī Beach, Athenree, Tanners Point, Katikati and the reticulated rural area through to Morton Rd.
Western Bay District Mayor James Denyer has written to the ministry seeking the exemption.
Local Democracy Reporting obtained a copy of the letter.
“Through our public consultation on our annual plan 2023-24, we received feedback regarding the ministry’s direction to fluoridate those two water supplies,” it reads.
“These concerns included the ethics of medication without consent, the unfunded nature of the mandate, concerns around the safety aspects of fluoridation, and the lack of equity in the requirement for the council to fluoridate some but not all our water supplies.”
The council received 12 submissions opposed to fluoridation during the 2023-24 annual plan consultation. It received 310 submissions in total. The decision was made to seek the exemption at the council’s annual plan deliberations in June.
The councillors voted 10 in favour with two against.
Denyer told LDR: “One of the reasons that I initially had reservations about doing the fluoridation, is it’s just yet another unfunded mandate from government.”
The ministry would fund the cost of setting up the fluoridation infrastructure but not the ongoing yearly costs.
The council’s water services director, EJ Wentzel, said the cost of introducing fluoride to the Athenree supply would be $923,962 with the management and monitoring estimated to be $55,148 a year.
For the Wharawhara supply the setup cost would be $938,587 with ongoing costs estimated at $55,193 each year.
The letter also asked the ministry to advise if an exemption was possible and invited the ministry to come and speak with the council.
This was “to help address the concerns raised by our community and provide information as to why the Athenree and Wharawhara water supplies were chosen specifically, along with the rationale for and safe use of fluoridation in general”.
Members of the organisation Fluoride Free NZ have spoken in public forums at community board meetings around the district.
A crowd of about 60 people also packed the public gallery of a council meeting in July. Four speakers expressed their concerns about the fluoridation directive and urged the council to seek an injunction.
Fluoride Free NZ member Kane Titchener claimed “prenatal and early life exposures [to fluoride] can reduce IQ”, based on a review by the United States National Toxicology Programme.
”It’s my request to this council to join that injunction. You do actually have a choice here, so please don’t think you don’t have a choice. The community knows you’ve got a choice,” Titchener said.
Denyer told the crowd decisions like that couldn’t be made in a public forum and informed them the letter seeking the exemption had been sent.
A Manatū Hauora spokesperson said the ministry was in discussions with the council about the fluoride directive. Asked if an injunction were possible, the spokesperson replied: “Injunctions are discretionary orders, so it is always up to a court whether an injunction is available in a particular case.”
On the claim that “fluoride lowers IQ”, they said: “Extensive research carried out around the world, including in Aotearoa New Zealand, has established that community water fluoridation is safe and effective.”
They referenced the 2021 report Fluoridation: an update on evidence, from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser (OPMCSA) and the earlier 2014 report by the Royal Society Te Apārangi and OPMCSA.
”The report concluded that there are no adverse health effects of any significance arising from fluoridation at the levels used in New Zealand.”
When water is fluoridated in New Zealand it involves adding fluoride to reach levels between 0.7 and 1.0mg/litre.
The council also faces fines for not complying with the directive.
Under the Health Act 1956, non-compliance with a director-general of health direction to fluoridate can result in a fine not exceeding $200,000 and, if the non-compliance is ongoing, a fine of $10,000 a day that the non-compliance continues.
– Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air