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Fluoride back on the Hamilton menu

DANIEL ADAMS
Last updated 05:00 14/10/2013

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Election 2013

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Hamiltonians should expect to be drinking fluoridated water within weeks.

A conclusive but non-binding referendum showing 70 per cent of those who voted support a return to fluoridation of Hamilton's drinking water will quickly be upheld.

And Mayor Julie Hardaker's new-look Hamilton City Council is set to respect that vote and bring fluoride back as soon as possible.

All 10 members the 13-seat council who could be contacted said that they would support the outcome of the referendum.

An eight-member tribunal of council in June voted 7-1 to remove fluoride.

Preliminary results showed 24,386 voters wanted fluoride reintroduced and 11,647 want it kept out, putting the result at 68 per cent versus 32 per cent.

The almost 2500 Waikato district ratepayers who get their drinking water from Hamilton's suppy were also polled and 76 per cent of them voted in favour of fluoride.

Recommissioning the fluoridation plant would take "two to three" weeks, city infrastructure boss Chris Allen said.

The first formal meeting of the new council is likely next month, and several councillors have said that they expect a response to be on the first agenda.

Fluoride Free Hamilton spokesperson Pat McNair said the group had spent "a few thousand" dollars.

The Waikato District Health Board spent $47,000 on its pro-fluoride campaign.

"I wasn't surprised [by the result] because it isn't a level field financially. Like any referendum, it's how much money you spend," Mrs McNair said.

Those who supported fluoridation in the referendum represented only a small fraction of eligible voters, and a smaller fraction of the city, she said.

"To say that the council has a mandate when only one out of three voters asked for, whatever it is, I don't call that a mandate.''

She was unimpressed with a suggestion from councillors Dave Macpherson and Ewan Wilson that council look to install a fluoride-free water source.

The councillors are suggesting staff investigate the cost of installing an unfluoridated supply, possibly at the city's water treatment plant, so those who want to consume unfluoridated water have access to a free supply.

The city should instead leave its water unfluoridated, and install a public tap with fluoridated water for those who wanted it, Mrs McNair said. 

The result proved the decision to remove fluoride was the result of lobbying "by an active minority rather than the average ratepayer going about their business," district health board chief executive Craig Climo said.

"It was only in 2006 that Hamilton overwhelmingly voted to retain fluoride in the water after it was brought to referendum then as well," he said.

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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 fluoride campaign, $8000 of that on billboards, Mr Climo said. 

Waikato DHB Medical Officer of Health Dr Felicity Dumble said ultimately, the referendum result was "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."

- Waikato Times

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