Tag Archives: Hamilton

Hamilton – the water is the problem, not the fluoride!

Saw this on Facebook the other night – together with the comment:

“If Hamilton don’t want fluoride in the water, how about we replace the water”

wine

Yes, that would be convenient, wouldn’t it. Instead of Hot and Cold taps, why not Red and White?

However, there is an element of truth in the joke. To some extent, the Waikato water is the problem, rather than fluoride added during fluoridation. Anti-fluoridationists are concentrating on the “evils” of the fluoridation agent, fluorosilicic acid, without realising that the source for our water supply in Hamilton introduces more contamination than the fluoridation chemicals.

Have a look at this graphic showing the levels of arsenic (As) in the Waikato River. Through almost the entire length of the river As levels are several times higher than the recommended maximum concentration for human consumption which is 0.01 parts per million (ppm).

The source water for the Hamilton water treatment plant is 2 or 3 times that recommended maximum As concentration.

Fortunately the treatment process remove about 80% of the As.

Let’s compare that with the contamination introduced by fluoridation chemicals.

A typical concentration of As in fluorosilicic acid is 2 ppm (see Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?  and Water treatment chemicals – why pick on fluoride?). There is a large amount of dilution of the fluorosilicic acid when added to water at the recommended dose (0.7 – 1.0 ppm). The final concentration in our drinking water is 0.0001 ppm As. Several orders of magnitude lower than the maximum recommended concentration for human consumption.

In reality, even after removal of 80% of As from the source water the major contribution to any As contamination in Hamilton’s public water supply is the Waikato River itself – not the fluoridation chemicals. By several orders of magnitude.

  Original Arsenic (ppm As) Dilution Contribution to finished water (ppm)
Recommended maximum As (ppm)     0.01
Waikato River water ~0.025 None ~0.005
Fluorosilicic acid 2* ~200,000 ~0.0001

* see Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?  and Water treatment chemicals – why pick on fluoride?

Haven’t the Hamilton anti-fluoridation campaigners got their priorities wrong when they complain about contamination of the fluoridation chemicals used?

See also:

Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
Other Fluoridation articles

Fluoridation – an organised campaign to misinform.

misinformation

Credit: World Congress for freedom of scientific research

In my article Poisoning the well with a caricature of science I mentioned the anti-fluoridation activists in the US using a conscious strategy of casting doubt on the science. It strikes me this is also a conscious strategy used by local activists on this subject.

They are dong this by making unjustified claims about the nature of the fluoridation chemicals, the possible toxic effects of fluoride and the efficacy of fluoridation in limiting tooth decay. In the series of articles I have written on this blog there are a number of clear examples where scientific findings have been distorted or completely misrepresent in the anti-fluoridation propaganda. See, for example: Is fluoride an essential dietary mineral?
Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?Fluoridation – topical confusionFluoridation and conspiracy theories.

Internet, newspapers and local bodies

The outright distortions are being disseminated by a very active and organised letter writing campaign on the internet, to newspapers and to local bodies. Because of the responsibility of local bodies for water supply these activist organisations see them as a key target in their misinformation campaign. Soften them up with letters, get a hearing of submissions which they dominate (quantitatively but not qualitatively) and then get a decision to stop fluoridation. Hamilton was just such an example.

A short note on a recent posting at the Fluoride Action Networks Facebook page gives an idea of how this misinformation can work. This is a reply the network got from the Manawatu District Council:

“Thank you for your submission on the fluoridation of the Council’s water supply. Council is interested in your arguments and believe they warrant closer examination. Council also believes that the Ministry of Health’s pro-fluoride position should be reviewed. However, Council does not believe it has the expertise to evaluate the evidence itself.”

I think this is quote revealing for several reasons:

  1. The council recognises they do not have the expertise to check the evidence they are getting from the anti-fluoridation network (or anywhere else, presumably). Seems sensible – call in the experts.
  2. Despite this lack of expertise they have concluded that the Ministry of Health’s “pro-fluoride” position should be reviewed. (I can only imagine this was because of peroieved public pressure as they lack any expertise).
  3. There is an implication that perhaps the Ministry of Health’s expert advice should be discounted because they are “pro-fluoride.” Hence a false balance between the expert’s scientific advice and the activist’s misinformed and distorted “science.”

We saw all these factors in the Hamilton example.

The council and the Mayor admitted they did not have the expertise to judge the evidence. They even passed a resolution asking for these sorts of decisions to be made by central government.

Despite this acknowledgement they went ahead and set themselves up as a tribunal to review and make decisions on the science! Several councillors justified the decision by repeating  some of the pseudoscience they had been dished up as if it were fact. They now consider themselves experts on the subject!

Some councillors also discounted correspondents who took issue with their interpretations, and the very bodies with the expertise – the Ministry of Health and the District Health Board. Some councillors have gone as far as suggesting that limitations should somehow be placed on the ability of these bodies to communicate with Hamiltonians during the buildup to the October fluoridation referendum!

I don’t necessarily blame members of councils for getting into this position. After all, they are given the responsibility to make the decision. And their concepts of community consultation can easily be distorted when activists groups with international backing come in from outside with a highly organised campaign to misinform them

But really the Hamilton experience should make other New Zealand councils suspicious of these campaigns. After all, this council did come out against the views of its citizens demonstrated in the 2006 referendum and in more recent polling. Consequently they came in for a certain amount of ridicule from local media and commenters for their anti-fluoridation decision.

The fight back

I hope councils will also take on board the warning of the Minister of Health about this issue. Tony Ryall warned councils and communities that:

“There will be people who come from out of town and tell all sorts of shock-horror stories around fluoridation.

“Communities need to know that that’s part of the strategy that these groups run, and they should look to their local district health boards, their local dentists and the evidence which shows that fluoridation in NZ is safe and does benefit families.”

This week’s NZ Listener editorial (The fluoride debate) described the anti-fluoridation campaign as “clever and bellicose” and warned “the anti-fluoridation lobby saw the win [in Hamilton] as a stepping stone to the likes of Auckland and Wellington.”

According to this editorial the Minister of Health has ordered officials to marshal the strong scientific case for both the health benefits and safety of fluoridation in strengthening and protecting teeth against decay.” He sees an increased responsibility for the Ministry of Health, and probably district health boards, to counter the anti-fluoridation misinformation campaign.

Personally I think this is an important response – but it still suffers from being seen as a battle between institutions and grass-roots activists. There is a limit to the amount of initiative such institutions can take.  We need more scientific and health experts to also be seen, by name, opposing and exposing this misinformation.

See also:

debunking anti-fluoridation arguments
Fluoridation

Similar articles

Hamilton gets its fluoridation referendum

referendum2It was a close thing, (passed by 7 votes to 6) but today the Hamilton City Council decided to hold a referendum on fluoridation of its public water supply at the October elections (see Hamilton to go to referendum on fluoride).

This represents a backdown from their decision last month to stop fluoridation – – despite a previous referendum and all their polling showing citizens support for the treatment.

In my mind this local experience raised a number of questions.

1: The questionable validity of the hearings process held by the Hamilton City Council. This was swamped by anti-fluoridation activists with only a few speakers (mainly institutional) supporting fluoridation. (There are no activist pro-science groups, unfortunately). This appeared to sway councillors who were exposed to a lot of “sciency” sounding misinformation, often extensively but falsely referenced. Councillors also appeared to be taken in by quantity and not quality, and seeing it as an issue on which scientists didn’t agree. They were fooled into the false “balance” argument – placing the activists “experts” on the same, or often higher, level of credibility as the experts in the District Health Board and Ministry of Health,

2: Council just don’t have the skills for this job. In effect, councillors were put in a position of having to make scientific judgements for which they are just not trained. The Mayor more or less admitted this when she said councils should not be put in this position and the decisions should be made by central government.

While such hearings have often been preferred to referenda I think this example shows how easily they can be captured. At least a referendum represents the will of the people, even if that can be influenced by chemophobia and activist propaganda. At least most people do put value on expert opinion.

3: The foolishness of council ignoring public opinion. I find incredible that the council could have made that June decision  knowing that their polling showed it would not be popular. Did they really think they had raised themselves to expert status and therefore could over-ride that public opinion as well as expert advice?

4: The anti-science sympathies within the council. I communicated with all the councillors asking them to support a referendum and was shocked at the response of a minority (3). This was rude (extreme in one case), accused me of being involved in some sort of internal political infighting, and discounted any reply I made to their claims on the science of fluoridaiton. In effect these 3 councillors seemed to think that the “science” stories they got from the activists groups was of higher value than any comment made by a scientist. Not just me but also other people expressing concern and those on the District Health Board and Ministry of Health teams.

For example a warning about misinformation in the activists’ submissions brought accusations of being “condescending, and even a bit offensive” and scientists comments were described as “designed to put down those involved, and are unscientific themselves.” No explanation of  what they based the claim on given. Yet the anti-fluoridationsts have been making quite irresponsible claims about the science and scientists, as well as our health institutions, without a single complaint.

And let’s face it, concerns expressed in the letters to the councillors really only echoed those of the Minister of Health.

But I have learned something

This experience brought home to me that anti-science attitudes are relatively widespread, even extending into representative bodies like councils. This is a bit of a shock as Hamilton has a long history of scientific research institutes and the University of Waikato in or near the city. In recent years science based industries and innovation centres have also proliferated. I had thought this scientific presence had actually promoted good attitudes towards science in the local community.

I must say, I was also surprised at such a rude response from a few councillors just months before the local body elections. I would have thought they would not be silly enough to offend voters in such a silly way.

Oh well, the Council has given us a referendum and I also found the experience useful in another way. I now have some good information which will help me in my voting decisions next October.

See also:

Fluoridation
debunking anti-fluoridation arguments
Fluoridation – topical confusion
Fluoridation and conspiracy theories
Fluoridation – the violation of rights argument.
Poisoning the well with a caricature of science

Getting a grip on the science behind claims about fluoridation
Is fluoride an essential dietary mineral?
Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?
Tactics and common arguments of the anti-fluoridationists

Poisoning the well with a caricature of science

Spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen this video before have a look at it before reading on.

Continue reading

Fluoridation petition – for Hamilton citizens

This is running very late as the petition has to be back with the Hamilton City Council by July 1. It already has over 1000 signatures but requires 1500. If you need background information see the links below.

petition

Click on image to download petition

The Waikato Times today published a coupon form of the petition and I have attached a PDF of a petition page. If you are interested download the page, print it off, sign it and get your Hamilton mates to, then return to the Hamilton City Council. Probably best to scan and email it to Ewan Wilson who initiated the petition. His email is Ewan.wilson@council.hcc.govt.nz

Here are the other contact details for the Hamilton City Council:

Mail: Hamilton City Council, Private Bag 3010, Hamilton, 3240, New Zealand

Email: info@hcc.govt.nz

Phone: 07 838 6699

Fax: 07 838 6599

See also:

Fluoridation

Getting a grip on the science behind claims about fluoridation
Is fluoride an essential dietary mineral?
Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?
Tactics and common arguments of the anti-fluoridationists
Hamilton City Council reverses referendum fluoridation decision
Scientists, political activism and the scientific ethos

Will Hamiltonians finally get a voice on fluoridation?

Well, I am not surprised this has happened but am surprised it’s happened so quickly.

Disaffection with the Hamilton City Council decision to stop fluoridation has resulted in an attempt by at least one councillor to get the decision reversed and submitted to a referendum. The Waikato Times is reporting:

The notice of motion from Mr Wilson being circulated today among city councillors today would force the council to debate when it meets in three weeks whether it should hold a referendum.

Mr Wilson said the controversial decision had been hijacked by the anti-fluoride lobby and was not what the majority of Hamiltonians wanted.

“The anti-fluoride position are mostly well-meaning individuals that have misinterpreted the science. And then there’s a group of nutters who are convinced this is mass-medication. There is considerable good science that shows fluoridation is a good base for public health. I believe the majority of people in Hamilton want fluoridation, and they should have the final say.”

Seems to me this would be the best outcome. Hamiltonians have shown in the previous referendum and recent polls they support fluoridation and there has been a lot of criticism of the Council’s recent decision.

Mind you, the anti-fluoridationists are not happy:

the co-ordinator of Fluoride Free Hamilton, Pat McNair, said a referendum was not necessary.

“A tribunal is a robust process where reasoned evidence from both sides can be given. A referendum is just peoples’ opinion in the street.

“The others [Councillors who voted against water Fluoridation] in their summary gave very good reasons why a referendum would not work.”

Ms McNair said she would only accept a referendum if lobbies from both sides of the argument had equal amount of money to campaign with, as education costs “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Ms McNair really seems to not like a democratic and full discussion. She preferred a almost behind-doors tribunal dominated by 90% anti-fluoridation submission when the city itself had voted 70% support for fluoridation. The real problem is not money to campaign with – but the presence of activist groups to do the campaigning. She had everything her own way with the tribunal, no wonder she doesn’t want a referendum and the associated public discussion

A referendum will give opportunities for supporters of fluoridation to organise and get their case across. Hopefully they will do so. If not they will only have themselves to blame.

See  Hamilton City Council | Referendum On Fluoride |… | Stuff.co.nz.

See also: Fluoridation

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

Interfaith delusions

I am not claiming that “interfaith” activity is bad – obviously it can do a lot to reduce inter-religious friction, hostility and violence. And that is certainly needed in parts of the world today. No – the bad arises when interfaith groups go outside their mandate and start thinking they represent everyone. Or they behave as if only religious “faiths” count and other, non-religious, beliefs should be ignored.

Boston Marathon

A blatant example occurred in the US in an “interfaith” service on April 18 after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Despite repeated attempts  humanists and secular groups were denied a representative presence (see Healing Must Be For Everyone, Including the Nonreligious Affected By Boston Marathon Bombings). Effectively the organisers excluded non-religious from an important ceremony which should have been for every American.

Staks Rosch, in his examiner article Interfaith: The very name is exclusive – National atheism acknowledges that:

“Even people who don’t immediately hate atheists for our lack of belief in deities would be quick to point out that atheism isn’t a faith and therefore atheists don’t belong in an “interfaith” service.

The problem however is not with atheists for wanting to be included in interfaith services, but rather with interfaith services themselves for pretending that they are inclusive when their very name is exclusive. If they desire to be exclusive that is one thing, but doing so while pretending to be inclusive just doesn’t work. The fact is that atheism is on the rise in America and many atheists have built and are building humanist communities like the one at Harvard. We are here and we are not going away; we’re growing!”

We had similar issues in New Zealand in commemorations held for victims of the Christchurch earthquake. I understand that even the minor religions had to fight hard against dominance of the major Christian denominations for representation at the “interfaith” service. I guess humanists and other nonreligious groups just didn’t have a show.

“Interfaith” in local bodies

militant

This issue came up for me again when the local “interfaith” group achieved a small “victory” with the Hamilton City Council. Here’s how the Waikato interfaith council reported the City Council’s acceptance of their request:

The Waikato Interfaith Council (WIFCO) is pleased to announce that the Hamilton City Council has embraced the opening of each of its City Council meetings with an interfaith prayer. In 2013, these will be led by Waikato faith leaders from the Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities. We would like to extend our vote of appreciation to Her Worship the Mayor Judy Hardaker, Hamilton City Councillor Daphne Bell, and all Hamilton City Council members for including both majority and minority religions in the opening of future Council meetings. This positive action sends an enthusiastic message of inclusion to all members of society and we sincerely hope that our prayers, led by a more representative selection of Waikato faith leaders, may help guide and encourage our Mayor and City Councillors in fulfilling the obligations for which they have been elected. WIFCO believes that this is a significant milestone in local governance that embraces all members of Waikato’s multicultural and multireligious communities. We hope that other Councils throughout New Zealand undertake such initiatives. [My bold]

So there’s the delusion – blatantly presented. The idea that holding religious prayers at City Council Meetings is somehow inclusive. Or that just by including prayers from minor religious groups as well as the major one is being inclusive.

But it’s not – as this figure from my recent post Fiddling with census figures for religion in New Zealand shows:


WICO’s agreement nice little arrangement with the Hamilton City Council is not inclusive because the largest New Zealand belief group is actually excluded!

Questions for consideration

  • Are ceremonies and prayers needed in local bodies and public events?
  • Should interfaith groups make sure there is representation of nonreligious beliefs in such “inclusive” ceremonies?
  • should nonreligious organisations be more proactive and request their recognition and offcial presence in “inclusive” ceremonies?
  • Why do “interfaith” groups and activities usually ignore the nonreligious?

See also: