Fluoride in water 'illegal'

Local body councils are breaking the law and breaching human rights by fluoridating water supplies, an anti-fluoride group has told the High Court at New Plymouth.

The group, Health New Zealand, yesterday opened its test case targeting the South Taranaki District Council's decision to fluoridate water supplies in Patea and Waverley.

The outcome of the judicial review, being heard before Justice Hansen, could have implications for councils nationwide. About 10 people are attending the two-day hearing and a large media contingent is present to report on the potentially landmark case which puts New Zealand law - or the lack of it - under the microscope.

Following a consultative process, the South Taranaki council decided in December last year to go ahead with fluoridation of both communities' water supplies. Yesterday, Health NZ lawyer Lisa Hansen, of Christchurch, called for the court to quash the council's decision.

Hansen said the decision was unlawful because the council had no power to add fluoride to its water supply, which she alleged was for therapeutic purposes.

Fluoridation also breached section 11 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which gave people the right to refuse to undergo medical treatment, Ms Hansen said.

Individuals and corporations could not lawfully supply water to members of the community which was intended to have therapeutic purposes, she said. Water fluoridation was an exercise of regulatory power which could not be exercised by an individual, she said.

"It is an inherently monopolistic activity that is also characterised as coercive since residents are practicably unable to opt out of the scheme and are effectively required to consume fluoridated water." For example, people were unable to avoid fluoride when buying a coffee or eating out.

While fluoride might have been lawful once, under the now defunct Municipal Corporations Act, it was no longer legal, Hansen said.

And the scientific understanding of how fluoride worked was now quite different from years past. Since 1999, experts had determined that fluoride worked primarily topically to control dental caries (such as by using fluoride toothpaste), rather than systemically (through drinking it in water), she said.

Justice Hansen asked if it was not a naturally occurring mineral and levels fluctuated naturally in water supplies across the world.

Hansen agreed, saying that in one area in India it was very high and the water supply required de-fluoridation to reduce adverse effects. Of the 7 billion people in the world only 369 million had fluoridated water supplies, she said. Most European countries did not put fluoride in their water.

A total of 48 per cent of New Zealanders lived with fluoridation. Of the 67 local authorities, 22 did fluoridate, she said. Tooth decay was not caused by a lack of fluoride. Regular brushing, a healthy diet and regular checkups were most effective in preventing tooth decay.

Justice Hansen asked for Hansen to concentrate on the main issues of law because he was unable to make any findings on disputed areas of fact.

Hansen said the Local Government Act did not give the power to fluoridate. The framework under which councils now operated was significantly changed. And Parliament had never done anything about legislating for fluoride, she said.

The court expects to hear arguments today in support of fluoridation from the council, represented by counsel Duncan Laing and Hamish Harwood, and also from Austin Powell representing the attorney-general.

At one point Justice Hansen joked there were far too many Hansens involved in the case, noting none were related.

The anti-fluoride movement has gathered strength in New Zealand.

Following an extensive submission process two years ago - much of it from the lobbyists - the New Plymouth District Council removed fluoride from the public water supply. Conversely in Hamilton, a public poll supported a return to fluoridation.

Fairfax Media