The divisive nature of water fluoridation was put in stark relief this week for Bega Valley residents.
On Tuesday, petitions containing an estimated 2000 signatures of residents against adding fluoride to the shire’s drinking water were presented to the council.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday councillors met with representatives from NSW Health to discuss the benefits of fluoride, but did so behind closed doors.
While that decision is understandable given the shouting match that would likely occur if such a discussion was open to the public, questions are being asked as to the transparency and trustworthiness of the community consultation process.
Fraser Buchanan from the Bega Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association said having a closed meeting over a “major and highly controversial public health decision” gave him and his association “no confidence” in the council’s process.
He also questioned the role of Hunter H2O in the community consultation given it was also a company tasked with installing fluoridation systems he claimed.
“No wonder there’s a lack of trust [on this issue],” Mr Buchanan said.
The council has previously said that while Hunter is a multi-disciplinary water company, as the successful tenderer to develop and administer the council’s fluoride “Have Your Say” submissions website, it did so in a “professional and ethical” manner.
A reported 330 submissions from the public were received by Hunter H2O during the consultation period.
Mr Buchanan said a petition by the anti-fluoridation group Clean Water For Life had 1400 signatures, while one organised by Dorte Planert of Tathra had a further 300, and Rob Slazenger of Bermagui also organised a separate petition containing 320 signatures.
All were presented to the council on Tuesday (it’s not known whether the same signatories appear on multiple petitions).
Council is considering adding fluoride to the Tantawanglo-Kiah and Brogo-Bermagui water supply systems as part of upgrading its infrastructure.
Wednesday’s forum with NSW Health representatives gave councillors “an opportunity to ask hard questions of those making the pro-fluoride argument” according to Cr Jo Dodds.
“I am taking this issue extremely seriously and being extremely stringent on what information comes into my decision making,” Cr Dodds said.
“Only proven scientific data and ethical considerations at the highest level are going into my weigh scales.”
Cr Dodds said Wednesday’s forum gave her some comfort that “highest level research” hasn’t shown any negative outcomes from ingesting fluoride. However, she said questions still remained over the lack of the same high level research into long-term effects of micro-dosing.
“I urge people to be cool headed about it. The more people shout and throw things into the argument, the more council has to wade through. The message to the community needs to be clear.
“I am discounting about 90 per cent of what is being thrown around. I’m looking for the most provable evidence.”
Cr Dodds said she “hammered” the anti-fluoride group as well during its presentation. “But I’m very grateful for both groups making themselves available.”