Fluoride - UK Water Companies Manuever To Escape Liability
BBC News
Water companies are calling for the final decision on fluorodising tap water to be placed in the hands of those who drink it.
Companies no longer want to be responsible for making the decision - and they want changes in the law so that if fluoride does turn out to be harmful, they are not legally liable.
Water UK, which represents the UK's water utility companies, proposes that the decision should be taken by health authorities.
But the group says a final say would only happen after consultation with local people.
At the moment, water suppliers themselves choose whether or not the chemical is added to their water, but few have done so due to legal concerns and uncertainty over what the public actually wants.
Although studies have consistently showed that areas where fluoride is added enjoy consistently better dental health - fluoride strengthens tooth enamel - it has been the subject of much controversy.
Support from NHS Confederation
Opponents of fluoridation claim it can actually damage tooth enamel by discolouring it, and can even damage people's health in the long term.
But Water UK hope public consultation by regional health authorities, along with government measures to legally indemnify water firms who add fluoride, can settle the matter once and for all. \ Water UK's chief executive, Pamela Taylor, said: "For many years now, the public has listened to the fluoridation debate without having the opportunity to take part.
"If the Government takes the path we've outlined, there will be real public consultation. Our proposals would mean that the people who decide what goes into the water are the people who drink the water in that locality - that to us seems a very sensible way forward."
The proposals have already won support from the NHS Confederation, which represents health authorities and NHS Trusts.
Chief executive Stephen Thornton said: "Widespread fluoridation would have a massive impact on reducing dental health inequalities in the UK."
Mr Thornton said a recent NHS Confederation survey showed strong support for the issue. 100 health authorities were asked to give their views on the best way to reduce inequalities in dental health. Of the half who responded, 70 per cent advocated fluoridation.
The British Medical Association issued a statement calling for flouridation of all water supplies.
The statement said: "Dental health inequalities are widening. The BMA is calling on the Government to take urgent action to implement the recommendation in Sir Donald Acheson's recent report of the Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health that water supplies should be fluoridated, and to make a firm statement to this effect in the forthcoming public health white paper.'
Fluoridation is among the world's longest-running medical controversies, with opponents claiming it is a poison which weakens bones and discolours teeth.
Sue King, of the Campaign for Pure Water, called for a public inquiry into the flouridatioin of water supplies.
She said: "This is do to with environmental pollution. A toxic chemical is being added to the water supply and people should be aware there is a lot of information that they do not have."
The first place in the world to fluoridate its water supplies artificially was Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945.
A mineral found naturally in soil and water, fluoride strengthens the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to attack by the acids formed from sugar.
It is most effective during the development of teeth in childhood, when it is taken up into the structure of the tooth enamel itself.
It exists naturally in all water supplies but the level can be topped up.
About 5.5 million people in the UK drink artificially fluoridated water, mainly in the West Midlands and North East.
A recent survey by the British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry found that residents of the West Midlands enjoyed the best dental health in England.
Since the use of fluoride toothpaste became widespread in the UK in the mid 1970s, there has been less dental decay among children in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.
Figures released last month by the National Alliance for Equity in Dental Health showed that in areas with water fluoridation levels of tooth decay were halved.