7 Aug 2010

Southern Water: We don't want fluoride either

Frank admission goes on the record for the very first time
Southern water: We don't want fluoride either
Exclusive By Jon Reeve
WATER bosses have admitted for the first time they don't want to put fluoride in Hampshire's supplies.
Chiefs at Southern Water have said they wouldn't add "unnecessary chemicals" if they didn't have to, but their hands are tied by a change in the law giving the final say to health officials.
The declaration has been hailed by anti-fluoride campaigners as further proof South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) should a abandon its controversial plans to fluoridate tap water delivered to almost 200,000 people.
Until now, Southern Water had '' insisted it had a "neutral" opinion of the scheme, which will affect residents in two-thirds of Southampton and parts of Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams.
The firm only gave technical advice and information on the water supply system during the public consultation on the plans. But company secretary Kevin Hall has admitted in a letter to a local campaigner that the company would not add fluoride to the water if it'didn't have to.
He said: "Our position is clear that we are statutory water suppliers and our expertise lies in engineering and water treatment for this purpose.
"We would choose not to have to add chemicals that are not directly necessary for the provision of drinking water.
"However, there is a statutory process for the requirement of the addition of fluoride to drinking water we supply, and, if this is met, we have a statutory duty to comply with the requirement.
"I repeat that we have great regard to the interests of our customers."
The law was changed in 2003 to put the decision on fluoridation in the hands of health authorities, after several schemes were scrapped by utility firms fearful of legal reprisals from upset customers.
Once SHA has made a decision to approve plans for fluoridation, which it must do following a public consultation, it can order a water firm to introduce the chemical to supplies.
The chairman of Hampshire Against Fluoridation, which has been leading the campaign fighting the Southampton scheme, last night said he welcomed the company's position as further evidence of the opposition to the plans.
Stephen Peckham told the Daily Echo: "They're in a sense caught between a rock and a hard place -whatever they think they'll be forced to do what they're told by the health authority But I do think it's significant that they wouldn't do it.
"They're a water provider. That's their concern, not to add anything that isn't there to make the water suitable for consumption. From that point of view, adding fluoride changes their whole role. Lots of people have written to Southern Water and I think it just shows that they are paying heed to their customers."
A Southern Water spokeswoman said last night the firm "cannot take a medical or ethical view" on fluoridation.
She said: "By law, if requested by a strategic health authority to add fluoride to the water supply, then we must do so.
"The decision to add fluoride was not taken by us and it is not our place to make such a decision, as stated in the letter."
An SHA spokeswoman said last night Southern Water had been invited to comment as part of the consultation, and insisted the organisation still believes in fluoridation.

HEALTH chiefs had hoped fluoride would be in Hampshire's water by the end of this year, but the scheme has been on hold since last June because of a legal challenge.
The High Court is to rule whether South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) should have taken more
account of public opinion before backing the plans in February last year.
During the public consultation, 72 per cent of people living in the affected area who gave their views opposed fluoridation.
But the authority's 12 board members unanimously approved the scheme, saying
it would benefit dental health.
That sparked calls, backed by the Daily Echo, for a binding referendum.
A date for the judicial review hasnt been set, because the campaigner who lodged the legal bid is appealing against a ruling she could not challenge the way the SHA weighed up its evidence.
The SHA, which has consistently argued it met or exceeded all its legal requirements during the consultation, has set aside £400,000 to fight the action.
That is seen as a test case and has caused other health authorities around the country to delay their own fluoride schemes.

FORMER Health Secretary Andy Burnham repeated his belief that fluoridation would be a positive step for children in Southampton.
The Labour leadership hopeful said that although in favour of the chemical being added to Hampshire taps, that the views of people had to be respected.
Mr Burnham said that the amount of fluoride that was added to the supply was "negligible" and that better dental health would promote "serf confidence" in city youngsters.
The MP stopped in Hampshire to thank party supporters in Southampton and the New Forest for their backing in the leadership race, now entering its final stages.
Mr Burnham said: "It's often the poorest kids in society that suffer the most without it, fluoridation has been proven to be a safe and effective way of improving not just children's but everybody's dental health and one part per million is negligible.
"Having said that I am very aware that there are strong views on the matter. There's been very robust debate and the views of local people have to be respected."
On his race to become leader, the MP for Leigh in Greater Manchester added: "I have a very clear idea how I need to rebuild the Labour Party that has lost touch with its routes.
"We need to rebuild the people's party from the bottom up."

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