Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai says the Government needs to get a loud and clear message that her council would not be fluoridating its water unless the Government pays.
By Susan Botting, Local Democracy reporter
Compulsory fluoridation for Whangārei and Bream Bay council drinking water supplies is moving closer - at a cost of more than $3 million - as the government moves to impose the controversial additive's inclusion in council water supplies nationally.
“If you (the government) don’t fund us, we will not be complying and we are expecting funding for the ongoing operating costs too,” Mai said.
Her comments came at a Whangārei District Council (WDC) briefing meeting on Thursday.
“If you (the government) want fluoride, you pay for it,” Mai said.
The Government brought in the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Act 2021 in November. It gives the Director-General of Health the power to direct a local authority to add fluoride to its drinking water supply.
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield late last year wrote to WDC, ahead of likely issuing a "direction to fluoridate" from the middle of this year.
Bloomfield wrote to WDC for second time on May 3, asking how the council could speed up its efforts to fluoridate, after the initially told him that would take three years to achieve. His correspondence to the council also included reasons why fluoridation was to be introduced locally.
Mai said WDC’s letter of reply, to be sent to Bloomfield next week in response to that May correspondence, needed to clearly pass on the council’s position on fluoridating its Whangārei and Bream Bay water supplies.
“This is a health issue and we are being forced into putting fluoride into our water supply,” Mai said.
WDC does not fluoridate any of its drinking water. This follows a 2002 referendum where 62 per cent of people were opposed to fluoridation. That position has been re-affirmed through long term planning over the subsequent two decades.
Council chief executive Simon Weston said upgrading council water supplies to be able to dose with fluoride would cost WDC $2.9 million. Annual operating costs would be $100,000.
Weston said the work to be able to add fluoride to council drinking water along with forecast time allocations provided to Bloomfield would be dependent on funding.
“These timeframes are dependent on adequate funding and resources including consultants, contractors and staff, and materials being available,” Weston said.
“If external funding is not available, then other projects will need to be cut from council’s water projects lists over these (fluoridation conversion) years to avoid further water rates increases."
Weston said the compulsory introduction of fluoridation could be delayed until Three waters reforms were completed.
This would allow existing water suppliers time and money to meet the new toughened water standards requirements of the government’s newly set up national water regulator Taumata Arowai.
It would also allow co-ordination, creating a uniform and consistent approach across each of the government’s four new giant inter-regional water services entities.
Weston said if directed, work on setting up for fluoridation at the WDC’s Whau Valley water treatment plant could begin immediately. This plant provided most of Whangārei city’s water.
If directed, the council could include fluoride dosing equipment in the current upgrade of its Poroti water treatment plant.
Work on Maunu Springs Ruddells water treatment plant could be done by the end of next year.
Bream Bay’s two Ahuroa and Ruakākā water treatment plants could be upgraded, resources permitting during the 2023/2024 financial year.
Bloomfield said fluoridating Whangārei and Bream Bay drinking water – at a rate of .7-1mg/litre - would significantly reduce the prevalence and severity of dental decay. Fluoridation at these levels was considered safe and effective.
"Overall, a person living in the Whangārei District Council area is likely to have significantly poorer oral health outcomes than the average person in New Zealand," Bloomfield said.
"The data shows there are significant opportunities for improvement. There are inequitable oral health outcomes between Māori and non-Māori," he said.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.