From September 30, 2006, fluoride will be added to the town water supplies in the Bellingen Shire.
From September 30, 2006, fluoride will be added to the town water supplies in the Bellingen Shire.

Fluoride debate decision finalised

By Ute Schulenberg

The debate is over.

After months of limbo NSW Health has announced that fluoridation of water in the Bellingen Shire will go ahead.

This is in spite of a concerted community campaign to prevent the decision, which included a public meeting and a mail plebiscite.

Bellingen anti-fluoride campaigner, Anton Ingarfield, said the decision showed blatant and cynical disregard of the community's wishes by NSW Health.

"Many people in the community are already distrustful of the department," Mr Ingarfield said.

"By overruling the community in this way, how much greater will their distrust be?"

Voter turn-out for the mail plebiscite was 38 per cent, with 71 per cent of respondents voting against fluoridation of the water supply.

"A (close-to) 40 per cent response is an incredible response for a non-compulsory poll," he said.

"While the plebiscite was not legally binding, I consider it to be morally binding."

North Coast Area Health Service's manager of oral health, John Irving, said the key issue was dental health in the Bellingen Shire.

"Bellingen Shire has the second worst rate of decay on the Mid North Coast after Kempsey," Mr Irving said.

"We know fluoride reduces decay by up to 60 per cent safely and effectively.

"All aspects of water fluoridation are being researched continually and claims of links between fluoride and cancer are unsubstantiated."

He said while decay rates fell in the 1970s and 1980s, they were now on the increase, 'mainly because of the increased consumption of sugar'.

"Australians consume 63.5kg of sugar per person each year ? much of it is hidden in foods we buy."

He said both the NSW Cancer Council and the Shires Association endorsed the use of fluoride.

Bellingen Shire mayor, Cr Mark Troy, said the council had sought the community's opinion and presented the views to NSW Health for consideration by their advisory committee.

"Council considered any decision on fluoridation of water supplies should be made by qualified health officials," Cr Troy said.

"I understand that increasing the fluoride levels in water supplies to NSW Health recommended levels will remain an emotive issue for some, however Australia has a long history of fluoridation and scrutiny by Federal and State health authorities."

NSW Health has committed $2 million to fully fund all capital costs of installing the equipment and Bellingen Shire Council will receive $20,000 per year for two years towards ongoing costs.

The fluoride will be added to local water supplies from September 30, 2006.

Nambucca Shire has had fluoridation for many years with an annual cost of $15,000.

In Coffs Harbour there is no definite date for the introduction of fluoridation because it is tied to the new water-treatment plant, due to be built in the next two years.

"Fluoride will be part of the new water plant ? it is pointless to separate the two," Simon Thorn of Coffs Harbour Water said.

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