Threat of legal issues fails to stop fluoride ‘yes’ vote

General manager at Bega Valley Shire Council Leanne Barnes said council will be taking the next steps to have the fluoridation program extended to Tantawanglo-Kiah and Brogo-Bermagui water supplies following the council meeting on Wednesday, February 21.

“We will now go back to the Secretary of NSW Health to say council has resolved to add fluoride to the water supplies,” Ms Barnes said adding that while it may come back to council as an operational process it would no longer be a matter for debate.

The decision has been more than 10 years in the making and at the council meeting there was two hours of debate, and presentations by members of the community. The debate was marked by many loud interruptions from the gallery, with Mayor Kristy McBain rising on several occasions to ask for respect from the public members.

A presentation by Myron van der Waerden and subsequent Q&A session via mobile phone with Australian lawyer Michael Lusk raised the spectre of legal action in relation to Gunnedah where the council has voted to introduce fluroride.

John Bryson who told council he was a “barrister of 34 years” said it would be prudent to delay as there was “a case pending that might have a significant effect”.

Several councillors asked if any council had ever been prosecuted but no one was able to cite a case and councillor Sharon Tapscott pointed out that council already had a foot in each camp as it had fluoride in the Bega-Tathra water supply.

Several speakers raised the issue of the survey, saying the way the question was framed was biased, with Anthony Herford calling it “one of the most obvious cases of push polling I have seen” and Fraser Buchanan saying it was contrived.

Speakers also referred to safety fears for pregnant mothers and young babies ingesting fluoridated water but in her summing up Cr Kristy McBain referred to her own experience of growing up with fluoridated water, having healthy teeth and her own eight-year-old daughter, who “despite regular brushing and flossing” had four fillings and is drinking non-fluoridated water.

Councillors’ debate

In the debate by councillors, Cathy Griff called for a delay to see the results of the circuit court and the Gunnedah matter.

“There are a huge number of documents coming in questioning the efficacy of adding fluoride and so it’s another reason for a delay. It’s not a still topic. It does not affect us to wait,” Cr Griff said.

It’s not a still topic. It does not affect us to wait.

Cr Cathy Griff

While councillor Jo Dodds said she believed fluoride could contribute to dental health she felt safety issues remained.

“The presentations opened the possibility that there may be a risk to which council may be exposed, raised by legal professionals,” Cr Dodds said to loud applause from the gallery.

But the motion for delay did not get support and councillor Tony Allen proposed the matter be dealt with at the time and added that his mind was made up by the information he had heard.

Cr Griff countered saying that there was a movement against “having this poison in our water”.

“It comes down to the peoples right to choose. We can do dental health education. Sugar is the issue. This is a sad day for Bega Valley Shire,” Cr Griff said.

Councillor Robyn Bain said it was about being equitable and everyone, irrespective of their financial situation, having the opportunity for good dental health, to which the gallery erupted with shouts of “force feeding is unethical”.

I am sick of being bullied by the anti-fluoride groups.

Cr Liz Seckold

Cr Kristy McBain was forced to try and quell the noise asking the gallery to hold their comments until later.

Cr Dodds talked about the stress of dealing with the matter and thanked the community for caring. She said that the journal ‘Nature’ had published a paper online on February 8 which talked about potential negative effects on the thyroid from drinking fluoridated water.

“I can’t unsee this document and I know this research hasn’t been included. This is a concern to me,” Cr Dodds said.

Councillors have had a mass of documents to read and councillor Liz Seckold waved a large bundle at the gallery.

“Whatever the outcome today I will continue to advocate for the socially disadvantaged but I am sick of being bullied by the anti-fluoride groups and their emails,” Cr Seckold said.

By the time Cr Tapscott rose to give her opinion, the gallery had become even noisier.

“I have listened to you people for the last two years and I am voting to have fluoride because 77 per cent of my residents say they want it,” Cr Tapscott shouted above the noise.

“You are not representative of the shire.”

I’ve listened to you and now you’re going to listen to me.

Cr Sharon Tapscott

Cr Kristy McBain once again called for respect saying that councillors had listened while the presentations were made but the gallery could do the numbers and saw the way the vote was shaping up.

“I’ve listened to you and now you’re going to listen to me,” Cr Tapscott said above the noise and went on to tell Fraser Buchanan not to make another comment.

Cr Kristy McBain said it was an emotive issue but not the most pressing one for council, highlighting water filtration as more important for the shire.

The vote passed in a 6-2 majority decision, with only councillors Jo Dodds and Cathy Griff voting against it. Cr Mitchell Nadin was absent.

The council will now write to the NSW Department of Health to seek the go-ahead to add fluoride to the Tantawangalo-Kiah and Brogo-Bermagui town water supplies. Fluoride has been added to the Bega-Tathra water supply system since 1963.

Ms Barnes said there was no cost implication for the council for the fluoridation process as the NSW state government paid for everything.

The council’s decision comes days after Labor Health spokesman Walt Secord spoke out against anti-fluoride campaigners while introducing legislation, which, if passed, would give the minister additional powers to direct local councils and water authorities to add fluoride to their drinking water supply.

Survey results

The decision of Council comes on the back of a detailed community information process and a recent community survey that was undertaken to determine a statistically valid community view on the subject.

Conducted by the Social Research Centre (SRC), a business unit of the Australian National University, the survey asked “Do you agree with adding fluoride to the public drinking supply to try to prevent tooth decay?”

The results of the survey were made publicly available on 29 January, with the key results being:

More than half of the residents surveyed rely on the public water supply as their normal source of drinking water (57.5 per cent). The second most common source was rainwater (24.6 per cent).

In response to the survey question, 66.2 per cent responded ‘yes’, 28.4 per cent responded ‘no’, 5.2 per cent were unsure and only 0.2 per cent preferred not to respond.

Respondents who reported their main source of normal drinking water to be the public supply were significantly more likely to be in agreement with the suggestion of adding fluoride to the public drinking water supply (77.1 per cent), in comparison with respondents who have another normal source of drinking water - such as bottled water, a combination of different sources or something else (51.5 per cent).

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