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Councils lose say in fluoride debate

Carterton District Council infrastructure, planning and regulatory manager Dave Gittings in the Kaipatangata Stream, Carterton’s water source. PHOTO/FILE

Wairarapa councils have lost their say over fluoridation of their water supplies, which could come at an unbudgeted cost to ratepayers.

Some councillors see it as another government mandate forced upon them in the Three Waters space.

The government has passed a fluoridation bill that shifts the power of a local authority to introduce fluoride into town supplies to the Director-General of Health.

The bill received royal assent on November 15.

On Wednesday at Carterton District Council’s [CDC] Infrastructure and Services Committee, chief executive Geoff Hamilton said there was insufficient space at the district’s water treatment plant for fluoridation.

Costs to introduce fluoridation would be presented to councillors next month but have not been budgeted for.

Hamilton said CDC might be instructed to fluoridate its water supply as early as mid-2022.

“The challenge for Carterton, apart from the debate about whether or not we should fluoridate, is actually more practical in that we have insufficient space in the water treatment plant for fluoridation,” he said.

“So, we will need to build a new plant room for fluoridation equipment.”

CDC staff were investigating the capital and operating costs of fluoridation, and a report would be presented to councillors on December 15, he said.

Hamilton said there may be funding available to cover capital costs from the Ministry of Health, “but the legislation makes it very clear there is no funding for operating costs for fluoridation”.

Councillor Dale Williams said the fluoridation bill continued to highlight “the lack of connectivity from Wellington”.

“Our MP should be made aware of this particular example we have in Carterton.

“We’ve got Three Waters heading down a track, with no reverse gear, to take over assets and manage Three Waters, but in between times, we’ve now got a potential capital cost coming out of nowhere and falling on councils like this.

“To just divert the staff’s time and attention and council resources into setting up something that may or may not happen at the eleventh hour of the Three Waters reform process, seems to be completely disconnected.”

Councillor Brian Deller was concerned there would be a big pushback from residents and ratepayers who were against community water fluoridation [CWF].

Mayor Greg Lang said any pushback would need to be directed at the government “because we are just a passenger in this”.

In 2014, Carterton District Council voted to keep fluoride out of the town’s water supply after the Wairarapa District Health Board [DHB] recommended that water fluoridation be done.

The majority of the Wellington region’s eight councils provide fluoridation, except Carterton and South Wairarapa councils. Petone, under Hutt City Council, does not receive fluoridated water.

Both Lang and South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen have previously stated fluoridation of water should be a consumer choice.

Masterton’s councils – first borough and then district – have added the chemical to their supply for almost 50 years.

The Masterton urban supply makes up 45 per cent of the population of the Wairarapa DHB region.

In its long-standing position statement, the DHB said it endorsed CWF “as an effective public health measure contributing to oral health maintenance, prevention of tooth decay and reduction in health inequalities”.

“It is important that local authorities continue to receive evidence-based advice from health professionals at their local DHB, who are committed to improving oral health and the overall health status of their communities.”

The DHB statement said “small but active” local groups remained against CWF.

Wellington Water, which services South Wairarapa’s water assets, said: “if directed by the Director-General of Health to add fluoride to the water supply in South Wairarapa, we would work with South Wairarapa District Council to implement this”. — NZLDR

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