The Western Bay of Plenty District Council has failed to get an exemption from the Government’s water fluoridation mandate.
Mayor James Denyer wrote to Manatū Hauora – Ministry of Health in July seeking an exemption from the mandate to fluoridate two of its eight water supplies, all of which are currently not fluoridated.
The ministry issued a directive to fluoridate the Athenree and Wharawhara water supplies by July 31, 2025.
Director-General of Health Dr Diana Sarfati responded: “I am not able to grant an exemption and it would be inappropriate to revoke or amend the direction to fluoridate provided to Western Bay of Plenty District Council.
“Given the established evidence on the efficacy and safety of community water fluoridation, I consider the fluoridation of Athenree and Wharawhara to be an important initiative to improve the oral health of your communities,” her letter read.
Those water supplies cover Waihī Beach, Athenree, Tanners Point, Katikati and the reticulated rural area through to Morton Road.
The council decided to seek the exemption after public consultation from the annual plan showed the community had concerns about fluoridation. The councillors voted 10 in favour with two against.
“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 council to fluoridate some but not all our water supplies,” Denyer’s letter read.
Mayor James Denyer wrote to Ministry of Health seeking an exemption. Photo: Alisha Evans/ SunLive.
The council received 12 submissions opposed to fluoridation during the 2023/24 Annual Plan consultation.
Sarfati’s letter was presented to the council at a meeting on Wednesday.
“The World Health Organization and other international health authorities have endorsed community water fluoridation as an effective health measure for the prevention of dental decay. Extensive research carried out around the world, including in Aotearoa New Zealand, has established that water fluoridation is safe and effective.”
She referenced the 2021 report Fluoridation: an update on evidence, from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor (OPMCSA) and the earlier 2014 report by the Royal Society Te Apārangi and OPMCSA.
When water is fluoridated in New Zealand it involves adding fluoride to reach levels between 0.7 and 1.0 mg/L.
The ministry would fund the cost of setting up the fluoridation infrastructure but not the ongoing yearly costs.
Council water services director EJ Wentzel said the cost of introducing fluoride to the Athenree supply would be $923,962 with the ongoing management and monitoring estimated to be $55,148 per annum. For the Wharawhara supply the setup cost would be $938,587 with ongoing costs estimated at $55,193 each year.
Sarfati was also considering whether to fluoridate all of the council’s water supplies. She said if this were to happen it would be after June 2026 when the council’s water assets had been handed to the new water services entity under the Government’s affordable water reforms.
The council also requested the ministry come speak to them about fluoridation, which Sarfati declined.
Fluoride Free NZ supporter Kelli Hutchinson urged the council to seek an injunction to the directive during the meeting’s public forum. She was backed by around 30 people who filled the public gallery.
“You have a lot of public support to seek an interim injunction," said Hutchinson.
“This is how you represent the interests of the people of your district. This is the only way to halt the introduction of fluoride without incurring penalties and fines from central government.
“You need to do the right thing,” said the Aongatete resident.
Around 30 people against water fluoridation filled the public gallery of Wednesday’s meeting. Photo: Alisha Evans/ SunLive.
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, there would be a fine of $10,000 a day that the non-compliance continues.
Members of Fluoride Free NZ also spoke at a July council meeting and in community board meeting public forums around the district.
Hutchinson referenced a 2022 draft fluoride toxicity report by the United Sates National Toxicology Program and questioned why the Director-General of Health was, in her opinion, “ignoring the most current science”.
Denyer responded: “I cannot speak on behalf of the Ministry of Health, and I hope that's understandable.”
Hutchinson said, in her view: “Central government wants to take your power away.”
Denyer replied: “They have taken that power away.”
She said a lot of people didn’t know about the mandate and when they found out they were “furious”.
“You need to get behind your public here. You need to grow a backbone.”
Councillor Rodney Joyce Councillor Rodney Joyce wants staff to investigate the cost and grounds for an injunction. Photo: Alisha Evans/ SunLive.
Katikati/Waihī Beach ward councillor Rodney Joyce asked if a report could be prepared by staff for a later meeting about whether there were grounds for an injunction and the likely costs because of the community’s request.
Denyer said it wasn’t something the council could make a decision on now because the council was just receiving the information.
Joyce replied: “I understand that. This is a serious matter going forward. So I'd like to see an investigation from staff.”
Councillor Tracey Coxhead questioned what the latest date was the council could start implementing the required infrastructure for fluoridation.
Chief executive John Holyoake responded the council would need to start the procurement process by early next year to have it in place by July 2025.
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