Council does turnabout to support fluoride

If a week is a long time in politics, then a decade is more than enough time for Lismore City Council to perform an about face on the contentious issue of fluoridating the local water supply.

Back it 1994, Council told residents it was vehemently opposed to the idea. However councillors, and their opinions, have changed dramatically since then.

On Tuesday night Lismore Council voted to give in principle support to fluoridation. It follows in the wake of a similar decision by Ballina Council, while Richmond Valley Council voted to leave the decision to NSW Health.

The issue prompted heated discussion from both sides. Opponents see fluoridation as mass medication using a potentially dangerous chemical. Supporters believe it would greatly improve dental hygiene in the Northern Rivers, particularly among disadvantaged people who find dental care hard to access.

Cr Ros Irwin proposed asking residents via a referendum as part of the local government elections in 2008.

This is a critical issue, make no mistake about it. If we agree to it now were stuck with it you cant filter it out, you cant boil it out. The community should be allowed to decide for themselves, she said.

Cr Irwin claimed that surveys on fluoridation commissioned by NSW Health contained leading questions and the results did not accurately reflect the communitys view.

But Cr David Tomlinson said it was an equity issue and that the longer fluoridation was delayed the more dental problems would occur.

Cr Irwins referendum proposal was defeated 4/7 (Crs Irwin, Ekins, Dowell and Crimmins for; Cr Chant abstained). Council then voted 8/4 (Crs Crimmins, Irwin, Ekins and Chant against) to support fluoridation.

A estimated cost analysis, provided by Northern Oral Health Network project manager John Irving, suggested fluoridation will cost Rous Water between 80 cents and $1 per person per year. This equates to around $100,000 per annum throughout the Rous Water supply area, which does not include Nimbin, Casino or Wardell, as they have their own stand-alone water supplies.

Council unanimously voted to ask NSW Health for funding to be provided to Rous Water to cover fluoridation expenses, so ratepayers are not left footing the bill.

Local councils will have to decide separately on how to fluoridate the stand-alone water supplies and the costs involved.

Mr Irving said he was pleased, and slightly surprised, by Lismore Councils level of support for fluoridation.

From my knowledge of what councillors had been saying publicly I thought it would be close, but in fact there was a significant vote for fluoridation, he said. I think that theres a greater realisation amongst councillors that we do have a severe oral health problem in northern NSW and water fluoridation is one preventative measure of several that can have benefits, particularly for the high risk population.

Rous Water will now be required to vote on fluoridation before it goes ahead. They will discuss the issue at their meeting next Wednesday, June 21.

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