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To fluoridate … or not to fluoridate?

For many years, the debate on whether to add fluoride to drinking water has been a vexing issue for councils – including in Wairarapa – given the varied views within their communities.

Thanks to a 2021 amendment to the 1956 Health Act, the director general of health was permitted to direct local councils to either introduce fluoride into their drinking water supplies or prevent them from being allowed to do so.

This new law resulted in the health boss directing 14 district councils, including Tararua District Council [TDC], to introduce fluoride to their respective water supplies by a determined deadline.

As such, TDC was required to introduce fluoride into the Dannevirke water supply by June 30 of this year, while the Pahiatua and Woodville drinking water supplies are currently under active consideration.

A TDC spokesperson told the Times-Age that the Dannevirke order has now been extended to August 31, and that “the Woodville and Pahiatua drinking water supplies are still being actively considered for a direction to fluoridate”.

“TDC relies on the advice from the Ministry of Health and director general about the safety of fluoridating water supplies and the significant oral health benefits, particularly for our young children.

“Council acknowledges that there are significant penalties for not following the directive, and it would not be prudent to subject ratepayers to these.”

While TDC confirmed that it will follow any decision, the spokesperson did acknowledge that there is currently some local opposition to adding fluoride to the drinking water.

“Fluoride Free Tararua have presented their views and a petition to council on multiple occasions; those in favour of adding fluoride to the town’s water supply have also presented to council,”
the spokesperson said.

Masterton District Council [MDC] does not require any fluoridisation directives as it was one of the first councils to make the move to fluoridate back in the mid-1970s.

While the majority of the district’s drinking water contains fluoride, MDC did install a tap on Manuka St in Masterton in 2016 that provides unfluoridated water.

Carterton District Council [CDC], however, hasn’t been ordered to fluoridate or been placed under any active consideration.

“Based on this proviso, our strategy and long-term plan at this stage does not include the addition of fluoride to drinking water unless we are told to do so,” a CDC spokesperson said.

“We have assumed that any future directive to add fluoride to drinking water will be supported with capital funding from central government to install the necessary treatment equipment, although it must be noted that legislation does not commit central government to provide capital funding towards upgrades.

“If there is no central government funding support, any operational and ongoing maintenance would need to be funded by the council’s annual budgets.”

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has also not been asked to fluoridate water nor placed under any active consideration but is choosing to consider the idea anyway.

“We have included fluoridation in our unconstrained 30-year Asset Management Plan, but it is not in the next 10-year plan,” an SWDC spokesperson said.

Although a High Court judgment made on November 10, 2023, found that the director general of health made an error of law in the process of considering the July 2022 directions by not explicitly considering rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in deciding on each direction, the court did not quash the directives, and they remain in force today.

Freddie Wilkie
Freddie Wilkie
Freddie Wilkie is a journalist at the Wairarapa Times-Age; originally moving from Christchurch, he is interested in housing stories as well as covering emergencies and crime.

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