Hamilton has spoken. We want fluoride back in our water.
The Hamilton City Council community water fluoridation referendum results are in and 68 per cent of Hamilton voters – 23,050 voted yes and 10,918 voted no – said they want their water fluoridated.
The result does not include the votes from ratepayers in the south and west of the Waikato District who receive their water from Hamilton City Council. The margin there was similar.
The 2500 people had the opportunity to vote in a Waikato District Council-organised survey and the district council shared those results with the city council. Community water fluoridation has been a hotly contested issue since the city council removed fluoride earlier this year. It was added, at the rate of about one spoonful of fluoride per full bathtub of water, for 47 years with the only health effect being less tooth decay.
Since then, Waikato and national health professionals have weighed in to protect the science of water fluoridation as the most important public health measure New Zealand has seen, providing baseline protection against dental cavities for all who drink and cook their food in fluoridated water. “The positive result is absolutely what we would have expected being that the decision to remove fluoride was lobbied by an active minority rather than the average ratepayer going about their business,” said Waikato District Health Board chief executive Craig Climo.
“It hasn’t come as a surprise. It was only in 2006 that Hamilton overwhelmingly voted to retain fluoride in the water after it was brought to referendum then as well.” Hamilton City Council held a tribunal earlier this year, resulting in city councillors voting 7-1 to remove fluoride, although four councillors, who were also on the Waikato DHB board, did not vote.
Mr Climo said it was disappointing that the issue came to tribunal in the first place and that the DHB had to spend so much time and effort on the referendum when there are other major challenges in health.
The DHB spent $47,000 on its pro fluoride campaign, $8000 of that on billboards and banners. Waikato DHB Medical Officer of Health Dr Felicity Dumble (pictured adding a teaspoon of fluoride to a bathtub of water) has been involved in the last two community water fluoridation referenda in Hamilton and says its non-binding nature means it’s not yet over.
I’m obviously pleased with the results, but the important thing is that the new council listen to the opinion of their community,” she said. “And ultimately use these results, and those from 2006, as an example as to why it’s not a good idea to use tribunals which grossly over represent the position of small interest groups, when it comes to making public health decisions for the whole city.”
Mr Climo said Waikato DHB would support other communities who have had fluoride removed from the water (such as Taumarunui and Morrinsville) and encouraged every community that doesn’t currently have the privilege of water fluoridation to raise the issue with their local councillors.
There are a number of towns in the Waikato DHB region, including Cambridge and Te Awamutu, who could now expect to receive submissions from public health officials as part of their annual plan processes, he said.
Dr Dumble reiterated the importance of water fluoridation to protect the community’s teeth – particularly for vulnerable groups including low socio-economic families, and said those wanting more information should visit www.fluoridefacts.govt.nz or www.waikatodhb.health.nz/fluoride
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