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What’s in the water? Not fluoride


South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] declined to comment on Wellington Water’s [WW] inquiry into the fluoridation failure in Wellington because it has never fluoridated its own water.

WW chair Lynda Carroll apologised for the company’s failure, saying WW had a responsibility to put fluoride into the water, and it did not do it consistently.

“When we had stopped that fluoridation, we failed to inform you of that.”

SWDC chief executive Harry Wilson said the council did not wish to comment on the Times-Age’s questions because there had been no direction by the Ministry of Health to fluoridate town water.

South Wairarapa District Council was recently advised by the Ministry of Health that it was not included among the first set of local authorities to be assessed on the fluoridation of their drinking water.

“This is still under consideration for South Wairarapa, and a decision on whether the Ministry will issue a direction will be made by the end of 2022.”

Masterton District Council fluoridated its own water.
Masterton mayor Lyn Patterson at the Kaituna Water Treatment Plant. PHOTO/FILE

Ministry of Health said Masterton’s urban water supply was the only water supply in Wairarapa that is fluoridated, with fluoridation beginning in the 1970s.

It said the water supply for South Wairarapa and Carterton was not fluoridated.

SWDC said Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told Wilson in a letter that he was mindful of current service delivery pressures across the water services and broader local government sector.

Wilson said the estimated cost of fluoridation would be a consideration for Bloomfield.

“He will also consider the scientific evidence on fluoridation’s effectiveness, and the oral health status and population size of each water supply’s area.”

If Bloomfield decided to issue fluoridation directions to South Wairarapa, compliance dates could be set for after July 2024, when the new water service entities had been established as part of the three waters reforms.

Carterton District Council [CDC] chief executive Geoff Hamilton also received a letter from Bloomfield saying the council was not included in the first set of “potential directions to fluoridate”.

“However, it is likely your situation will be considered in the coming months.”

Bloomfield asked CDC to note that it didn’t need to wait for a potential direction from him to fluoridate water supplies.

Wilson commended WW for undertaking the inquiry into its failure to fluoridate Wellington’s water.

“The report is thorough, well-considered, and focuses on lessons learned.”

Wilson said he was confident in Wellington Water’s ability to implement the findings of the report produced by Martin Jenkins.

“As part owner, we accept these findings and expect that Wellington Water will implement the recommendations.”

The WW independent report found that fluoridation for oral health wasn’t a priority for Wellington Water.

It said there were “long-standing challenges” to providing fluoridation safely.

There were also organisational challenges to raising and addressing issues, and the complexity of the WW model made service delivery challenging. Escalation and communication of the decision to stop fluoridation took too long.”

The inquiry recommended WW maintained a “relentless focus on effective fluoridation in both the short and long term”.
WW chief executive Colin Crampton said since discovering the issue, the company worked “at pace” to reinstate fluoride at two of its four plants it stopped fluoridating.

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Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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