Anti-fluoride activists are threatening to embroil Hamilton City Council in costly legal action after councillors agreed overwhelmingly to re-introduce fluoride into the city's water supply.
Under the gaze of the nation's media and a full public gallery, councillors yesterday voted 9 to 1 to recommence fluoridating Hamilton's water.
The vote gives effect to a public referendum in October which showed 66 per cent of Hamilton voters wanted fluoride put back in their water.
The council stopped fluoridating the city's water supply in June last year after holding a four-day tribunal hearing on the vexed issue.
Anti-fluoride agitators yesterday condemned the council decision, saying it made a "complete mockery" of the council's own hearing process.
Hamilton activist Pat McNair said members of Safe Water Alternative New Zealand (SWANZ) would take immediate legal advice with the view of initiating a judicial review of the council decision.
She said the council had set aside $50,000 for anticipated legal costs, but predicted ratepayers could end up forking out $200,000.
"Obviously the council can't afford this legal challenge," she told the Times.
"Our lawyers have said the council hasn't sufficiently consulted the public on this issue and there has been a conflict of interest by some councillors. We may find other reasons to challenge this," she said.
"I'm very disappointed by what's happened but our legal threat isn't an empty one."
The council is expected to start adding fluoride back into the city's water within six to eight weeks.
Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman, who moved for the council to recommence fluoridation, said he was relaxed at threats of legal action.
A judicial review would take the issue "out of the hands of the politicians" and would define the issue for councils across the country.
Chesterman said the "court of public opinion" showed the majority of Hamilton voters wanted fluoride in their water. "I'm not prepared to impose my personal view on people when the people have spoken."
Councillor Ewan Wilson, who organised and led the fluoride referendum, said the council's decision was a great result for the city.
"Fluoride at the levels we add is safe and plays a very important roll in good oral health.
"The decision vindicates our hard work regarding the referendum and enabled the people to have a say and in the end most of the councillors heard the message," he said.
Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker, who voted in June to remove fluoride, said the public referendum swayed her in favour of fluoride.
"The key piece of information we received since we did the tribunal hearing was the referendum and that showed overwhelmingly that those who voted wanted fluoride in the water," she said.
Hardaker said she wasn't concerned by the prospect of a judicial review and called on the Government to make a definitive call on fluoride.
"Right across New Zealand councils are grappling with this issue and we've already had a court case going on.
"Local councils are going through a consultation process and then being faced with court proceedings when the Government could deal with this matter very quickly."
Waikato District Health Board had spent $47,000 on their pro-fluoride campaign and these costs would be repeated by health boards across the country, Ms Hardaker said.
"The taxpayer needs to ask do they really want all this money being spent on an issue when the Government could deal with it."
In reply, Waikato District Health Board communications director Mary Anne Gill said the Health Ministry had consistently advised councils to fluoridate their water.
Waikato District Health Board had a statutory responsibility to give Hamilton City Council advice and the board's advice "was, and is, and will always be" to fluoridate the community water supply, Gill said.
"This is a wonderful day and the bottom line is yes there may be some legal cases that come out of this, but what has happened is fluoride is going back in Hamilton's water."
The health board announced on its website that today it would take down three giant billboards on its building in Hamilton's inner city.
HOW THEY VOTED
Re-introduce fluoride into Hamilton's water supply:
FOR: Mayor Julie Hardaker, Gordon Chesterman, Karina Green, Garry Mallett, Rob Pascoe, Andrew King, Angela O'Leary, Leo Tooman, Ewan Wilson.
AGAINST: Philip Yeung.
ABSTAINED: Martin Gallagher.
NOT PRESENT: Margaret Forsyth, Dave Macpherson.
- Waikato Times
Should fluoride in water be the responsibility of central government?