Fluoridation: Freedom of choice – and responsibility

PN Tap

Alia Grant, 7, collecting “fluoride-free” water from the Papaoeia Park tap in Palmerston North. Credit: Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ

Apparently a source of “fluoride-free” water provided by the Palmerston North City Council since last May has seen little use. Despite the council providing the “fluoride-free” public tap at the request of campaigners, the data on its use shows an average of only about 4 people a day drawing water from it (see comments by Palmerston North City Councillor Aleisha Rutherford and email to her from council officials).

This data will interest other councils, like the Hamilton City Council, who are considering installation of similar “fluoride-free” taps. They might question whether such low use warrants the costs involve (more that $90,000  for Palmerston North and a budgeted $60,000 for Hamilton). But I am more interested in what this low usage implies for they way anti-fluoride campaigners have exerted their own freedom of choice.

Freedom of choice involves responsibility

I have always argued for freedom of choice on issues like community water fluoridation (CWF) where opinions are divided. I believe that freedom of choice is actually guaranteed by democratic processes.

Yes, I know, the minority sometimes complain that such democratic decisions remove their freedom of choice – and certainly anti-fluoride propagandists make much of this. Often claiming that the minority’s freedom of choice, in this case, is more important than the health of the community as a whole.

But that argument is disingenuous. Such choices are about the availability of a service or social health measure – not about having such services or health measures imposed on people. There is always a choice – and that is the great thing about democratic decisions. The community supports socially provided health care and secular education. But that in no way prevents the minority, who oppose such measures, the freedom to organise their own healthcare or education. Free secular education and healthcare is not imposed on anyone.

So, it seems obvious to me that someone who genuinely believes fluoridation is not OK should be responsible enough to take their own steps to either filter the water supply or arrange for a different source if they find themselves in the minority. I am not for a minute suggesting they give up their belief, or even their attempts to convince others. Just that they be responsible, accept the majority have spoken and that the majority decision should prevail – at least until there is a democratic change of mind.

Given the ready availability of alternative water sources or filtration devices, it would be silly not to take advantage of them. That is exactly what I would do if in that situation. But very few of my anti-fluoride discussion partners on this issue, when asked, acknowledge they take such steps. Instead, they will often complain about costs, even claiming these costs are prohibitive, and moan about having fluoridation “forced” on them.

Water filters a common

So the low usage of this “fluoride-free” tap indicates to me that people who seriously object to fluoridation of their water supply are already taking their own steps to remove it – most probably using a relatively cheap filter. And, I believe their use of such filters probably predates any public action they have taken on the issue. Similar filters are, after all, quite common and many people use them for aesthetic reasons to remove the taste of chlorine or organic matter.

So why do anti-fluoride activists make such a fuss – attempting to deny a democratically accepted social health measure to people who support it? After all, any personal claims of their own sensitivity to fluoride are surely invalid if they have exercised their freedom of choice and taken steps to filter their water or find another source.

The water consumption data for the “fluoride-free” tap in Palmerston North suggests that all but a very few (perhaps 4 people?) are responsibility taking their own steps to filter the water. This fuss, then, surely has nothing to do with their own situation. I can’t help thinking it derives from their own ideological and political beliefs about what society as a whole should do.

Perhaps these ideological and political beliefs, rather than any scientific fact, are the real source of their claim about the danger of community water fluoridation?

See also


12 responses to “Fluoridation: Freedom of choice – and responsibility

  1. Fluoride is a poison chalice for water utilities, pun intended.

    Tap water cannot be differentiated to provide different qualities to different people, like normal consumer products. Water utilities are, however, more and more urged to become customer centric.

    Being customer centric causes a tension between the public good (providing safe water) and the private good (keeping everybody happy). This tension arises when public services are judged on the same merits as private services, who can differentiate.


  2. Ken, my best guess is that the majority of antifluoridationists don’t filter their water, or buy bottled water. They simply consume and otherwise utilize fluoridated water from their taps, like everyone else. Connett, himself, lives in Binghamton, NY, a fluoridated community. I have no real knowledge of whether he uses his tap water, filters, it or what. However, I would be very surprised if he and his family don’t simply use the water from their tap just like the other citizens in their community.

    If one honestly believed that fluoridated water causes all the frightful, heinous things that Connett and his followers claim it does, unless he/she were insane, he/she would not get within a mile of it, much less freely consume it. Thus, assuming that Connett and other antifluoridationists do indeed freely use fluoridated water from their taps, they either:

    1) are stark, raving mad, and need to be committed


    2) they don’t believe the hogwash they spew any more than do most intelligent people.

    My money is on #2.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS


  3. Well, on second thought, based on comments I see all over the internet, including on your site, there are probably a high number of antifluoridationists for whom #1 would apply.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS


  4. Steve losing it: “1) are stark, raving mad, and need to be committed”

    “there are probably a high number of antifluoridationists for whom #1 would apply.”

    Your losing language is a give away, Steve.

    This water is still chlorinated and there have been access issues.



  5. Soundhill

    Your point? Based on this comment and others of yours, you seem to fit option #1.

    Steven D. Slott,mDDS


  6. From PNCC: “Our record shows a total consumption of 8 cubic meters of fluoride-free water in 105 days. We assume half of them had been used for flushing purpose (as the sign shows) so an average daily consumption is 38 litres, which equivalent to 4 people’s daily drinking/cooking water assumption.”

    I wonder if the first user of the day has to flush out ten litres of water to be sure the pipe is clear from the night’s fluoridated supply. Not very satsifactory and your picture does not show a notice, or 10 litres of container for one person as said.


  7. Of course you will “wonder,” Brian – anything to divert attention away from the facts.

    But even if you hypothesise anti-fluoride partaker of the products of this tap don’t bother reading, or can’t read, you can only get 8 people/day using the tap.

    And the credits for the photo show it isn’t mine.

    Do you use a filter to remove F from your tap water?


  8. It’s not fluoridated here. When I have pointed out 1 mg/l in a measurement for a well here I am told it is probably sea water getting in to the well. Even when I point out sea water itself is only 1 mg/l fluoride so it would have to be total sea water to get 1 mg/l fluoride the official still says it must be the sea water doing it. Talk about scientific understanding, or trying to fleece the public.

    If the people do a lot of baking or steaming their food and only bring 2 litre bottles like the girl in the picture you reproduce and don’t see any flushing notice as in the picture it would be 40 of those per day.


  9. Brian, I didn’t ask if you lived in a fluoridated area. I asked if you used a filter for your tap water.


  10. Ken, is it possible to get a filter which removes just F and leaves the other important minerals like magnesium and calcium in?


  11. soundhill,

    Most people want a water filter to “filter” everything out of the water, so that’s what they are designed to do. That’s why they call them filters.

    Something that doesn’t filter magnesium and calcium is called a tap.


  12. Stuartg, marketing can work by creating a product for a market or creating a market for a product. For the latter the marketer sets out to make the product plausible and desired. Everyone is told that it is what everyone wants. And that is what you appear to be doing.

    The PNCC have recognised that people want the natural minerals in their water, so as you should have read the PNCC FF tap does not work on a filter but supplies NF water from a well.

    Those of you who have been suggesting to use filters should take account of the dietary benefit of natural minerals in water. That was my point and you have not answered it.

    Wiki: “Some studies have shown a weak inverse relationship between water hardness and cardiovascular disease in men, up to a level of 170 mg calcium carbonate per litre of water.”

    When water is treated (and fluoridated) lime may be added (hardness) to adjust pH. I suggest that “filtering” the hardness out of water may even worsen dental health.


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