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Last Gulp for Hamilton Fluoride

Last Gulp for Hamilton Fluoride


As its tribunal date fast approaches, Hamilton City Council faces little choice but to turn off the tap and end its controversial practice of drinking water fluoridation once and for all.

With public opinion tilting heavily against addition of chemical fluoride (hydrofluorosilicic acid) to city water, mounting concerns in the scientific and medical communities, and serious ethical questions, there is scant justification left for Hamilton to continue forced mass medication of the city’s population.

In response to its recent month-long campaign for public input, the tribunal received an unprecedented 1,560 submissions. Of those, 1,386 (89 per cent) oppose fluoridation – an overwhelming majority that erases all doubt as to where residents stand.

An examination of submissions reveals broad opposition, ranging from ordinary householders and parents to those identified with dental and orthodontic practices, the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, NZ Health Trust, NZ Journal of Natural Medicine, naturopathic and general health practices, and organisations from Grey Power and Soil and Health to the Waikato Clinical School.

The submissions against Hamilton’s fluoride practice number more than ten times those received during the annual plan process only two years ago. Opposition has clearly grown. Approximately 150 submitters have asked to address the tribunal, stretching the hearings to four days.

The Waikato District Health Board is required to support the pro-fluoridation policy of the Ministry of Health and, consequently, Hamilton’s 47-year-old fluoridation habit. Of the minority of submitters supporting fluoridation, many are associated with the DHB itself or MOH.

Just prior to HCC’s call for public submissions, the Waikato DHB ratcheted up its political lobbying efforts behind the scenes, with a troubling and professionally unusual medical “Grand Rounds” presentation on the subject of drinking water fluoridation. In the world of medical education, grand rounds are a form of ongoing education for practitioners, commonly in lecture and question format. Generally reflecting the highest of academic standards and welcoming of both professionals and all interested lay people, grand rounds are an academic forum reflecting the best tradition of broadening knowledge, learning and understanding. The Robinsons, as a matter of personal interest, have attended grand rounds at one well-known North American medical school.

But the late February Waikato DHB grand rounds “lecture”, presented by medical officer of heath Felicity Dumble and principle dental officer and Hamilton dentist Rob Aitken, was something different. Startling some in attendance, the presenters opened with instructions that anyone associated with any media -- newspaper, radio or other public information outlet -- was required to leave the room immediately. Unlike proper grand rounds, attendees were told the event was “a private meeting”.

One highly qualified health professional characterised the day’s intro as “like a fascist lock down”. What followed was reportedly less academic than expected and more a political effort to bolster support for fluoridation among local medical and health professionals. The speakers reportedly presented sketchy and incomplete data promoting fluoridation and ridiculed scientific evidence associating fluoridation with disorders from osteoporosis and vascular disease to impaired foetal development and lowered cognitive function.

A question from another physician in attendance requesting peer-reviewed studies that support the DHB stance was brushed aside. The audience instead heard a plea for continued fluoridation of drinking water.

The Waikato District Health Board will be the main “group presenter” supporting fluoridation at HCC’s climactic tribunal.

Three HCC councillors -- Pippa Mahood, Martin Gallagher, and Ewan Wilson – are elected members of the Waikato DHB. The three also sit on the DHB Community and Public Health Advisory Committee, which advises the full board on policies like fluoridation in Hamilton. By virtue of their DHB jobs, the three have obvious, major conflicts of interest in respect of the HCC fluoride tribunal.

Were Mahood, Wilson, or Gallagher to participate, it would be like serving on a jury where the chief prosecutor is one’s brother-in-law. They should step down or be excused by tribunal chairman Mayor Julie Hardaker.

Other councillors, like former DHB member and deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman, may have opinions on fluoridation going into the tribunal. But that is realistically to be expected and, after all, someone has to decide.

As for its decision, HCC has no legal mandate to medicate the general population, and the purported benefits of drinking water fluoridation are far from proven and widely debated at best. Health risks cannot be discounted. Safety cannot be guaranteed. Councillors are not medical practitioners. Forced medication is unethical. There are inexpensive and readily available alternatives. The public rejects fluoridation by a wide margin.

There is no other choice. Hamilton fluoridation has to end.


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