Fluoride may be added to water supply

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The Independent Online
FLOURIDE COULD be added to the water supply in many parts of Britain, for the first time since the privatisation of the water companies, under Government plans.

A White Paper on public health this week will confirm targets for reducing the main killers in Britain, including heart attacks and cancers, with measures to reduce social inequalities which contribute to illnesses among the poor.

But water fluoridation could prove the most contentious part of the wide-ranging policy.

Privatised water companies have refused 55 requests by health authorities since the 1985 Fluoridation Act to add fluoride to the water supply because of fears that they will be sued by anti-fluoride protesters.

Ministers want to avoid upsetting the anti-fluoride campaign, but are determined to act. Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, last year promised MPs: "Our public health White Paper will set out a clear policy framework for fluoridation."

If an independent report commissioned by Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, for next Spring supports the case for fluoride, the water companies will be required to act in response to public demand in local areas.

The companies have demanded legislation to protect them from legal challenges by anti-fluoride campaigners, who claim fluoridation is a breach of their civil rights and could hurt their health.

Ministers believe the solution will be to show that the companies are responding to overwhelming public support, demonstrated in local public meetings or referendums.

The Fluoridation Act was consolidated into the 1991 legislation privatising the industry but left a loophole, requiring the companies only to consider demands by health authorities.

Ms Jowell, who will present the White Paper on public health, has described the present situation as "a mess" and added: "The overwhelming evidence is that fluoridation of water is safe and effective. Doing nothing is not an option."

The British Dental Association has campaigned for the Government to act. There are clear differences in dental health between regions which have had fluoridation since before privatisation and the rest. In 1995- 96, five year olds in the West Midlands, which has fluoridated water, had less than half as many decayed, missing or filled primary teeth as those in the north-west, where the supplier has refused to add fluoride.

The report follows the Green Paper Our Healthier Nation, which proposed four areas for improvement by 2010: to cut the death rate from heart disease and stroke for people under 65 by a third; to reduce accidents by a fifth; to cut cancer deaths among people under 65 by at least a fifth, and the death rate from suicide by at least a sixth.