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Port Macquarie-Hastings Council: Fluoride advocacy win for ADA NSW and local health experts

9 September 2021

Story credit: Port News

A community poll earmarked for the December council elections that proposed asking Port Macquarie-Hastings residents about the addition of fluoride to the local water supply has been shelved.

Deputy mayor Lisa Intemann, an anti-fluoride advocate for more than 17 years who helped champion the community poll with mayor Peta Pinson, will instead take up Member for Port Macquarie's Leslie Williams' suggestion to take the debate directly to the state government.

The state member slammed the poll as a waste of money over an issue that is a legal requirement of council as the water authority. A petition by local health professionals also opposed the poll and reinforced the health benefits of fluoridation.

Cr Intemann made the difficult decision to rescind the poll at the September 6 council meeting because the public debate had become "divisive" and "quite nasty" and was causing too much community angst.

Her motion was supported by Crs Rob Turner, Geoff Hawkins and Peter Alley.

She has encouraged any member of the public wanting to be a part of ongoing discussions to share their opinions and concerns via the state member's office.

Cr Intemann said she will be basing her submissions on "science and facts".

The poll at the December 4 council elections, which was non-binding and not compulsory to participate in was to ask the question: "Do you want Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to permanently cease adding fluoride (hydrofluorosilicic acid) to the drinking water supply"?

Much of the debate about the poll focused on the cost to run it - between $65,000 and $95,000 - and that despite the result, under Section 6B of the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1957, a water utility may not cease fluoridation unless the direction is revoked by the Secretary of the Department of NSW Health.

Mayor Peta Pinson, supported by Cr Sharon Griffiths, said canning the poll is taking away the community's right to express its opinion on an issue that has been debated for too long. The poll would have determined community opinion either way on whether the water should be fluoridated or not.

"This isn't about fluoride anymore, this isn't about $90,000 anymore. This is about asking our community what their desires are moving forward in relation to how their drinking water is treated," Cr Pinson said.

"Going to the poll was one way to end that debate once and for all."

Minister for NSW Health Brad Hazzard warned council about the wording of its poll saying it was inconsistent with other community polls on fluoride.

He said polls on this issue more commonly ask: 'Do you agree with adding fluoride to the water supply to try and prevent tooth decay?'

In 2019, in consultation with NSW Health, council paused fluoride dosing when the severe drought meant it could not draw water from the Hastings River as normal.

A briefing was held with councillors in February 2020 to discuss the pause to fluoride dosing.

Fluoride dosing was removed from the usual control sequence as dam levels dropped in order to maximise available extraction opportunities. The pause on fluoride dosing also coincided with a review of environmental considerations around open water storage dams and the reticulated network.

Since the drought, council has replenished dam levels, but with fluoride dosing still paused for the bulk supply, the level of fluoride in the dams has continued to dilute.

Council recommenced fluoride dosing directly to the Wauchope water supply in April 2021.

Council is working with NSW Health and the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to recommence fluoridation for the Hastings' bulk water supply.

NSW Health requires council to report where fluoride levels of 0.9mg/L have been reached and maintained for three months. Because the fluoride levels in the bulk water supply is diluted, council has never reached this reporting target.

The Minister for Health Brad Hazzard in July advised council the state government would provide 100 per cent funding for an upgrade of its dosing plant so the region's fluoridation requirements could be met.

Council's director of infrastructure Dan Bylsma said they have been working closely with NSW Health to find solutions.

"Following a meeting with NSW Health last month, they have endorsed our approach to recommence fluoridation in our Port Macquarie network, and we will investigate and regularly report back how the concentration of fluoride varies within the Port Macquarie Dam," Mr Bylsma said.

"We are finalising the operational details to begin fluoridation in the bulk supply and will announce this shortly."
NSW Health has acknowledged council's strategic water projects program and supports the long-term plan for a new water treatment plant at Cowarra Dam.

"NSW Health will work with us to ensure the proposed plant, forecast for completion between 2026- 2028, meets regulatory requirements and represents the best solution for the community," Mr Bylsma said.

"We will continue to work very closely with NSW Health in applying for funding via their fluoridation capital works program."

Door is open for discussion: MP

Mrs Williams commended Cr Intemann on what was a challenging decision to rescind the poll.

Cr Intemann is hoping the state government will now facilitate open and robust conversation about fluoridation from all sides.

"I was very pleased with the outcome of the council meeting because like so many other local residents including medical professionals thought it was such a waste of ratepayer's money to conduct the poll," Mrs
Williams said.

"I have written to all councillors thanking them for their considered debate in relation to fluoride and their decision to rescind the previous motion to conduct a community poll at the December local government elections.

"I particularly commend the deputy mayor Lisa Intemann for her proposal to discuss directly with NSW Health concerns relating to fluoridation and as the state member I will assist in accommodating these discussions."

Australian Dental Association New South Wales president (ADA NSW) Dr Kathleen Matthews supported rescinding the poll.

Dr Matthews said work must now be done to find solutions to recommence fluoridation in the Hastings.

"Fluoride is a safe, proven and effective way of helping combat tooth decay and maintaining the oral health for people of all ages. ADA NSW has argued strongly that this poll was a complete waste of valuable time and money, as a well as a potential threat to the oral health of local residents," Dr Matthews said.

"ADA NSW remains concerned that all local residents are currently unable to access fluoridated water and urges council to concentrate its resources fully on working with NSW Health to restore fluoridation of water supplies as soon as possible."

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