Hamilton City Council reverses referendum fluoridation decision

Well, this morning’s news was a shock. The local council (Hamilton City Council) has decided to stop fluoridating our water supply (see Fluoride to be removed from Hamilton’s water supply).

(Note: If you are sufficiently interested that Waikato Times article has an attached poll where you can express your view. Early votes ran against the council decision, but subsequently the anti-fluoridators seem to have organised to fix that).

Yes, I know. I should have paid attention. But I am probably pretty typical in my apathy about local body politics.

I did know something was afoot – after all an old friend of mine had told me months ago he was part of a campaign to stop fluoridation. But as we had been through all that 7 years ago I thought the format would be the same.

In 2006 a citizen referendum decisively supported continuation of fluoridation in Hamilton’s water supply. That referendum was preceded by much public debate in which supporters and opponents actively presented their arguments.

So, I think I (and other Hamiltonians) can be excused for thinking we were running up to similar referendum held alongside the next local body elections. But we were mistaken. The Waikato Times tells us how it was done:

“The decision, just reached after less than an hours’ debate, followed a lengthy tribunal which heard the weight of public submissions, many from outside the city, argue for the removal of hydrofluorosilicic acid from the water supply.”

Well, I guess that is the price of apathy. But, given the history, I can’t help feeling rather duped. In my mind there are two issues:

Democracy

This time the issue seems to have taken place behind closed doors – at least figuratively. Apparently submissions are on the City Council web site (and I will certainly be perusing those as the Times article implies they were one-sided). But the public discussion has been pretty minimal – it certainly didn’t register with me. And as a chemist, with some background in researching carbonate apatites (and the role of fluoride in them) I should normally have noticed.

The vote seems rather funny – 7 to 1 to stop fluoridation. With five councillors withdrawing from the vote – 3 councillors “removed themselves after declaring a conflict with their district health board roles.” Bloody hell, one might have expected these three councillors to have a better understanding than the others.

And the question of understanding also raises issues. How informed were the 7 councillors who voted to stop fluoridation? How representative were the submissions they presumably took note of? And, considering the importance of health issues like this, shouldn’t they have done more to get advice from reliable professionals?

In fact, I really wonder if a local council is the right sort of body to consider such important health issues.

Science

In public discussion of these issues the science is often problematic. Both sides on the fluoridation issue will present sciency sounding arguments and these are often difficult for the layperson to consider objectively. Just like the climate change issue. However, given the importance of the fluoridation issue and the fact that a representative body is charged with making the decision it is important for public discussion to at least have the opportunity to be informed scientifically.

In this case I don’t believe the public was adequately informed – and I suspect that neither were the council members. (I really must check out the submissions they received).

The other aspect of these sort of public issues is the way that scientific knowledge gets used. Often pseudo scientific arguments are used. Strongly motivated people will cherry pick, search for information, misrepresent information, to support their firmly held views. Yes, I know – this is only human – we are all prone to confirmation bias. But that is why it is important to make sure there is adequate representation of views. And to make sure professional experts make submissions and give their comments on the submissions of others.

Finally, this is a health issue – and like most health issues it is the most vulnerable who have the most at stake, but usually have the least opportunity to take part in decisions. It will be the children of the economically most disadvantaged families who suffer the decline in dental health. Not only because of weakened dental enamel but also because they are also the people less likely to be receiving adequate dental care as they grow.

See also:

Fluoridation
Water Fluoridation – the emotional tail wags the dog in Hamilton
Waikato DHB ‘very disappointed’ with fluoride decision

32 responses to “Hamilton City Council reverses referendum fluoridation decision

  1. Presumably the seven responsible councilors had consulted properly and assured themselves that the chicken entrails augured well.

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  2. What’s with all the anti-fluoridation at the moment? Queensland, Portland and now Hamilton. The NZ Herald editorial today (7 June) said that several other cities including New Plymouth have also stopped fluoridation. Where’s all the fear coming from suddenly? It seems to be a global thing that’s just spiralling out of control.

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  3. Sarah, my impression locally in NZ is that there is a well organised lobby group campaigning. They have declared their aim of removing fluoridation throughout the country. And many of the submissions to the Hamilton hearing came from overseas activists.

    Unfortunately, there is no lobby activist group campaigning to retain fluoridation. Perhaps there needs to be.

    Scientists and medical experts tend not to be activists – seeing their role as advising and providing information. There probably needs to be something more.

    While the specialisst did a good job of presenting the science at the hearings that was not sufficient to counter the emotional pressure of the activists. Although councillors will still have to face the opinion of the voters, which supports fluoridation, come the next election.

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  4. Interesting enough, why put a medication that is acknowledged by the professionals to work primarily through the surface of teeth into everyones drinking water? The whole issue is frought with arguments against the practice that far out way any benefits as minute as they are. In 1986-87, the largest study on fluoridation and tooth decay ever was performed by the National Institute of Dental Research. The subjects were 39,000 school children between 5 and 17 living in 84 areas around the country. A third of the places were fluoridated, a third were partially fluoridated, and a third were not. Results indicated no statistically significant differences in dental decay between fluoridated and unfluoridated cities. The difference was .6 dmft’s out of a possible 128. What I find hard to believe is with an issue as controversial as this one, why risk it? Take the precautionary approach and take it out until unequivocally proven safe. This stuff came out 65 years ago and only 5.7 percent of the worlds population practice it? Only 2 percent of Europe fluoridates and their cavity rates have fallen at or better than the fluoridating countries. Something is amiss here.

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  5. Kyle, you have cherry picked one study and ignored many others which clearly show positive effects from fluoridation. I can’t even consider the study you mention without a link and/or reference. Commonly when people make these sort of assertions I find that they have either quoted incorrectly or taken an inappropriate example. For instance, fluoridation is not the important factor – F intake is. Many unfluoridated areas may well not be deficient in F.

    So give us a link and I will have a look at the study you refer to for myself.

    Your reference to precautionary principles, the fact that not all areas practice fluoridation and the falling cavity rates are all examples taken from the anti fluoridation play book and easily answered. They are examples of selecting one factor and ignoring others – such as the regional levels of natural F.

    The issue is controversial, but here the people clearly supported continuation of fluoridation in a binding referendum. This support has continued as shown by recent polling by the Council. For the council to ignore that and give in to the pressure of a highly organised activist group suggests to Hamiltonians that something is amiss here – which may well have its outcome at the next elections.

    Surely the clear message from the binding referendum should not have been reversed without another referendum. No wonder many Hamiltonians are pissed off.

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  6. Take the precautionary approach and take it out until unequivocally proven safe.

    unequivocally ?
    proven safe?

    Can never happen. Same goes as for every other substance human beings are exposed to.

    Such absolute demands reveal naivety of argument as the proof can never exist.

    Unless I’m mistaken, artificial fluoridation levels are similar to many naturally occurring supplies and the benefits are well documented.

    Tell me Kyle, what’s your stand on vaccination?

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  7. I’m a bit ambivalent about this. On the one hand I can see why you’d fluoridate water, on the other I don’t really see why hexafluorosilicates are really useful for this, as compared to sodium fluoride. Is it due to calcium fluoride precipitation being avoided? Would the hexafluorosilicate actually be hydrolysed efficiently?

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  8. Yes, Quintin, the hexafluorosilicate is unstable in water – it hydrolyses and F is largely there as the F anion. Silica is a fully precipitated and the F only reacts with silica at higher pH values (around 9).

    Yes, CaF2 would precipitate if the Ca and F levels were high enough. Presumably there aren’t

    NaF would also work but be a lot more expensive.

    By the way, don’t be taken in by antifluoridationist claims of the hexafluorosilicate containing arsenic and other heavy metals. In my experience its just not true. I am referring both to the literature and actual analysis of NZ samples.

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  9. No Ken, what I did was use a notable study (Brunelle and Carlos (in case you want to look it up yourself)) to emphasize a point. I am well aware of many studies that support the fact that water fluoridation is ineffective and uneccessary. I just don’t have the time to roll out the mountain of information that supports water fluoridation being a bad idea. I am not saying that the topical application of fluoride is neccessarily a bad idea for everybody, (I wouldn’t touch the stuff myself) what I’m saying is the systemic ingestion of fluoride is a very bad idea. It is unethical because it is forced medication. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck. In other words, it’s medication. Anybody who says differently is fooling themselves. It’s only purpose when added to drinking water is to prevent carry disease. The states and the UK acknowledge this, look it up. And you have to wonder why we only medicate the water with fluoride. Why stop there. Maybe we should add vacinations to the water too. Rolling my eyes and looking at you Richard Christie. Some of you are probably thinking hmmm that sounds like a great idea. omg I ask again, why add it to our water when it primarily works topically not systemically? If people want to expose themselves to this substance, then they can do so by brushing their teeth with fluoridated toothpaste, taking drops, tablets etc. without forceing the rest of us. Ken, you never addressed why only 5.7 percent of the population fluoridates their water and the 94.3 percent or rest of the world does not, in the 65 years fluoridation has been around. Geez with fluoride touted as one of the 10 health achievements of the 20th century (proponents playbook), you would think everybody and their dog would be signing up, not so. Here’s another study to ponder, Ken. Ontario has a high fluoridation rate compared to Quebec so logically you would think that Quebers would have a higher cavity rate but again not so. The difference was negligable. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/flouridation-may-not-do-much-for-cavities/article4315206/ I did the leg work for you this time Ken.🙂 Am I winning hearts and minds yet? Ken, you’re a proponent, I’m an opponent. You were indoctrinated, most likely, much longer than I was so it will take a little longer for you to come over to the other side, that is understandable. Your arguments are based on outdated science. Sacred cows like the one we have here are unfortunately difficult to put out to pasture. The trend as Sarah pointed out “What’s with all the anti-fluoridation at the moment? Queensland, Portland and now Hamilton. The NZ Herald editorial today (7 June) said that several other cities including New Plymouth have also stopped fluoridation.” is to stop this archaic practice and it will only gain more momentum as people start to wake up. This thinking we are smart enough to only effect the teeth and nothing else in the body by ingesting fluorsilicates (fluoridation agents) is ridculous. Fluorosis is the first bio indicator of fluoride poisoning. I whole heartedly agree with you (Ken) on your referendum point, though. If the process was not followd then that is undemocratic and stinks. The issue of fluoridation being a bad idea can not be forced or expediently pushed through council regardless of the citizenry. After all this how flouridation became to be and we don’t want to make the same mistakes.

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  10. Kylie – its customary when referring to something to give the detailed reference or provide a link. “Brunelle and Carlos (in case you want to look it up yourself))” is not sufficient. So, I repeat, can you provide a link and I will check it out for myself. Until I do I won’t comment on it.

    As for your other points – they are a typical list from the anti-fluoridation playbook. Tomorrow I will post a common list of their arguments with brief replies.

    Now these comments:

    ” You were indoctrinated, most likely, much longer than I was so it will take a little longer for you to come over to the other side”

    “Your arguments are based on outdated science.”

    Please show a little respect for your discussion partners – you are not in a position to make such silly judgements.

    I will leave responding to your relatively long list of complaints (a common feature with the anti-fluoridation activists) till tomorrow when I post the list. Perhaps you can then respond to my brief replies to the points you think relevant.

    Finally, it’s true that some of the smaller local bodies either don’t fluoridate here, or have reversed fluoridation. There is also a very active campaign opposing fluoridation – a pseudoscientific campaign with international links. But recent polling still show a majority in favour in favour of fluoridation (The referendum in Hamilton was 70% in favour). And as I have said many Hamiltonians are pissed off that our support for fluoridation was misrepresented so cynically by 7 members of our local council.

    The people are starting to wake up to this activist rubbish.

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  11. Take the precautionary approach and take it out until unequivocally proven safe.

    “unequivocal proof” can never happen. Same goes as for every other substance human beings are exposed to.

    Such absolute demands reveal naivety of argument as the proof can never exist.

    Unless I’m mistaken, artificial fluoridation levels are similar to many naturally occurring supplies and the benefits are well documented.

    Tell me Kyle, what’s your stand on vaccination?

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  12. Ken don’t be mad. I merely pointed out that the Emperor where’s no clothes. I presented an alternative side. The damage is done. The wheels are in motion. Spin and spin as you may, people will decide for themselves irrespective of what you say. I encourage people to listen to both sides, seek out more information from various sources and to be critical of this information in order to come to an informed decision. Don’t be fooled by credentials and endorsements. And trust your common sense for your sake! Here’s a highly entertaining debate between a Toxicologist and a Dentist. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ys5qGpZj80E
    Paul Connett clearly owns Howard Farran much like I’m owning Ken right now but don’t let me dissuade you, watch it for yourself. Ken I look forward to poking holes in your list of counter arguments tomorrow. I want everyone to know If I don’t respond to them it’s because Ken blocked me from doing so. Bad Kenny!

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  13. Kyle, I am not mad. And yes I am happy to listen to both sides.

    However it’s interesting that despite two requests you refuse to provide a reference/link to the study you rely on.

    I am beginning to think you are not a credible commenter. You seem to be hiding behind bluster.

    And yes, I want every one to know if you don’t respond to my blog post tomorrow it’s because you have no reply as I am well know for not blocking anyone except extreme trolls.

    I enjoy a good discussion and allow others to come to their own conclusions.

    See you tomorrow.

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  14. Don’t be fooled by credentials and endorsements.

    Oh dear.

    I am quite happy to give weight to credentials. The Royal Society of New Zealand recently concluded that there is no new information to warrant a review of the scientific consensus on the issue of fluoridation of public water supplies.

    You see Kyle, in order to take opponents of fluoridation such as yourself seriously I would have to conclude that the scientific community and health officials are willfully misleading the public over public safety. The same sort of disconnection demanded of me by climate change deniers, AIDS linked to HIV
    deniers, and by the opponents of vaccination.

    By the way, do you apply your standard of absolute safety to vaccinations?

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  15. Shall we, boys and girls?
    Shall we?
    We shall…

    No Ken, what I did was use a notable study to emphasize a point. I am well aware of many studies that support the fact that vaccinations are ineffective and unneccessary. I just don’t have the time to roll out the mountain of information that supports jabbing innocent children with needles being a bad idea. I am not saying that the topical application of certain vaccines is neccessarily a bad idea for everybody, (I wouldn’t touch the stuff myself) what I’m saying is the systemic ingestion of mercury and toxins commonly found in vaccines is a very bad idea. It is unethical because it is forced medication. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck. In other words, it’s medication. Anybody who says differently is fooling themselves. It’s only purpose when added to children’s bodies is to prevent disease. The states and the UK acknowledge this, look it up. And you have to wonder why we only medicate children with vaccines. Why stop there. Maybe we should jab children with flouride too. Rolling my eyes and looking at you Richard Christie. Some of you are probably thinking hmmm that sounds like a great idea. omg I ask again, why add it to our children’s bodies when it primarily works topically not systemically? If people want to expose themselves to this substance, then they can do so by without forceing the rest of us. Ken, you never addressed why only “x” percent of the population vaccinates the X” percent or rest of the world does not, in the 200 years vaccination has been around. Geez withvaccination touted as one of the 10 health achievements of the 20th century (proponents playbook), you would think everybody and their dog would be signing up, not so. Here’s another study to ponder, Ken. Ontario has a high vaccination rate compared to Quebec so logically you would think that Quebers would have a higher immunity rate but again not so. The difference was negligable. (insert newspaper article here) I did the leg work for you this time Ken. Am I winning hearts and minds yet? Ken, you’re a proponent, I’m an opponent. You were indoctrinated, most likely, much longer than I was so it will take a little longer for you to come over to the other side, that is understandable. Your arguments are based on outdated science. Sacred cows like the one we have here are unfortunately difficult to put out to pasture. The issue of vaccination being a bad idea can not be forced or expediently pushed through council regardless of the citizenry. After all this how vaccination became to be and we don’t want to make the same mistakes. Ken don’t be mad. I merely pointed out that the Emperor where’s no clothes. I presented an alternative side. The damage is done. The wheels are in motion. Spin and spin as you may, people will decide for themselves irrespective of what you say. I encourage people to listen to both sides, seek out more information from various sources and to be critical of this information in order to come to an informed decision. Don’t be fooled by credentials and endorsements. And trust your common sense for your sake!

    Science denialism: Only the labels change.

    Common Sense Is Worthless in Science

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  16. I see Ken. It seems you’re right here. I guess the small amounts of silica produced are not a problem. Wouldn’t the hydrolysis release hydrofluoric acid though? Or would that have very little effect on pH due to the low concentration and the presence of basic impurities like bicarbonate?
    As for claims of arsenic and the like, there will always be traces in there, but I can’t worry about that.

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  17. Pingback: Tactics and common arguments of the anti-fluoridationists | Open Parachute

  18. Yes, the extreme dilution and the buffering effect of dissolved CO2 would make effects on pH minimal.

    As for toxic elements like As – 10 years ago we actually analysed a local batch of FSA and I was surprised at just how minuscule the amounts of such traces were. I guess the trapping and collection methods must ensure a pretty high degree of purity.

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  19. I guess the trapping and collection methods must ensure a pretty high degree of purity.

    Didn’t stop the anti-fluoridation spokeswoman featured on TV3 News the other night referring to it as “industrial waste” in every second sentence.

    These people have little integrity.

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  26. On June 8, Ken said that the earlier referendum in Hamilton was binding… apparently, not so. The HCC Policy states referenda are NOT binding.

    Also, 1,500 signatures does not require the Council to hold a referendum… only consider one. If hey say no, then a petition of 10% of the roll is required… and again, it wouldn’t be binding.

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  27. The council said the 2006 referendum was binding. You have it out with them, Ron. Binding or not a council would be extremely silly not to accept such a decision whichever way it went.

    The recent petition got about 2500 signatures more than enough, apparently, for the council to decide on a referendum this year. I don’t know all the ins and outs as the Mayor has been very confused in her avoidance, saying last night she believed a majority of Hamilton was opposed to fluoridation when all the polling indicates otherwise. Dave McPherson is also playing silly buggers. He has taken an activist anti-fluoridation position from the beginning an has been the only councillor who responded rudely to my emails. Actually, Ron, you would get on well with him considering his anti-science attitudes.

    But with the petition and the public concern that’s been expressed the council will hold a special meeting next week to consider their position. One solution is for a resolution to be nominated by at least 5 councillors which will enable them to rescind their precious decision not to hold a referendum.

    Of course the anti activists are very upset at the petitions success and have been furiously lobbying council to ignore it. Whichever way it goes now they are going to look silly.

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  28. Re binding or otherwise, Ron. Have a look at the Waikato Times report linked in my article. It says:

    “It overturns the outcome of a binding referendum in 2006 which saw 38 per cent of eligible Hamilton voters, more than typically vote in council elections, overwhelmingly for fluoridation of the city’s drinking water to be continued.”

    So what is your information that it was not binding? I am happy to accept the Times is incorrect, as well as those councillors I communicated with about his. But because you have an extremely poor history for credibility I have a rule of demanding the evidence.

    So what about a quote and a link?

    That should help you fill in your empty day, shouldn’t it?

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  29. Stuart Mathieson

    The vote seems rather funny – 7 to 1 to stop fluoridation. With five councillors withdrawing from the vote – 3 councillors “removed themselves after declaring a conflict with their district health board roles.”

    This doesn’t really surprise me reading some of the accounts reported from our own council deliberations for examples Counsellor Paul Hudson was reported by the ODT as saying that the Hamilton Council MUST (my emphasis) be cognisant of some new significant evidence so we should respond accordingly (or words to that effect).

    Was it a conflict of interest or a gutless retreat to avoid betraying a complete lack of background knowledge but a limitless capacity for political correctness, with if course an eye to the next election.

    Would one declare a conflict of interest for banning books on Newtonian physics at your local school on the grounds of being a commercial pile driver?

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  30. I think there is some internal politicking which the public is not aware of. Macpherson has been a driver in this. He pushed to prevent a referendum last year, he was the only councillor hostile towards me when I wrote to them all urging them to support a referendum, he spouts a lot of the anti-fluoride propaganda and I see the anti-fluoride people have interviewed him for a video which is part of their collection of activists speaking against fluoridation. If anyone should have declared an interest he should have.

    I have also got a copy of the legal advice the council obtained and it in no way covers the other 2 councillors, only the DHB people. But even that raises huge issues of how our representatives can represent us with such limitations.

    Very good arguments for a referendum.

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