By CATHY ARONSON
The Minister of Health faces a backlash from Waikato local authorities over her request for them to add fluoride to their water.
Last month, Annette King sent a standard letter to mayors of cities or districts where the public water supply was unfluoridated.
She told them that the low levels of the chemical were having "significant detrimental effects" on public health in their areas.
Annette King said it had been proven that fluoridation particularly helped to improve the oral health of Maori and Pacific Islanders.
But in the Waikato, the sudden request has offended some councils.
Waitomo Mayor Steve Parry said it left him flabbergasted and he would not even consider her request.
"You can't just willy-nilly tell a community to add fluoride to their water without considering the downside and jeopardising the health of the community to improve the dental health of one sector," he said.
If the minister wanted all councils to do as she said she should legislate. He would not waste council money on the issue unless the community raised the debate.
Waipa Mayor John Hewitt said it was unfortunate that a letter was sent to the councils on a sensitive topic without consultation.
Four of the councils - Waipa, Otorohanga, Hauraki and Matamata-Piako - said they would consider the request as a statutory obligation but because the issue was divisive and sensitive it would be put forward for public consultation or referendum if considered seriously.
The Matamata-Piako District Council decided to remove fluoride from its water supply in response to a public referendum five years ago.
One of the main advocates of removing the chemical, Matamata resident Frank Rowson, said the public had spoken and should not be pressured by the minister to change.
Mr Rowson said research in New Zealand and overseas questioned the benefits of fluoride in the water supply and whether there were health risks
"If there is reputable evidence of a risk, then why force-feed the community through mass medication?" he said.
A Ministry of Health article published this year said international and national surveys showed lower tooth decay in communities where the water was fluoridated.
There were no significant health risks associated with water "fluoridated at optimal levels."
Dental Association president Dr Stewart Edward said treating water in this way was the most effective method of improving public dental health.
He said this was essential for people who could not afford dental healthcare and he supported Annette King's request.
Annette King, who sent the letter to 61 mayors nationwide, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Fluoride is present in drinking water but the ministry wants councils to increase the levels to ministry drinking-water guidelines of between 0.7 mg/l and 1.0 mg/l.
By CATHY ARONSON