19 Sep 2013

Fluoride debate heats up in Hamilton

7:30 pm on 19 September 2013

The Waikato District Health Board says fear of threats and abuse means it won't let any of its staff attend a public meeting in Hamilton on 30 September on the fluoridation issue.

The Hamilton City Council stopped fluoridation in late June and the issue has since become a hot local body election issue. The council last month announced a non-binding referendum would be held in October.

The DHB says it believes staff speaking at Monday's meeting would be subjected to unpleasant personal attacks from fluoride opponents, and it says a disruptive meeting would not achieve anything.

And as debate heats up, a dental association spokesperson says there have been unverified claims of death threats against pro-fluoride health professionals.

The anti-fluoride Action Network say the claims are "outrageous", and the health professionals are just "ducking for cover".

DHB medical officer of health Felicity Dumble says staff have been harassed by phone, email and through social media.

"Public meetings such as this tend to be heavily attended by people who have very fixed ideas, and on top of that some people feel so passionately opposed to fluoridation that they may step over the boundary and be quite abusive and threatening to the people trying to present the science."

Dental Association Waikato-Bay of Plenty branch president John Twaddle says he's even heard unverified claims of death threats against health professionals who favour re-fluoridation of the city's water supply.

"I think when it gets to that level of angst being created in the community they feel ... just for the safety of the people involved that they shouldn't be subjecting them to that sort of pressure."

Fluoride Action Network national coordinator Mary Byrne does not believe there have been harassment or threats.

"As far as I know they're making it up because we don't know of any; we don't know this, to have happened. So we feel that they are just ducking for cover."

Dr Dumble says people wanting information on fluoridation should visit the DHB website or talk to their GP or dentist.