Horowhenua Council pauses work on fluoridation

Fluoride debate continues as councils await court rulings

Horowhenua District Council (HDC) has paused work on fluoridating the Levin and Ōhau town water supply while it awaits the outcome of a High Court hearing in February 2024.

On 27 July 2022, Horowhenua District Council received the mandate to fluoridate drinking water supplies in Levin by 31 July 2023, later extended to 30 April 2024.

On 10 November 2023 a High Court judgement found that there should have been specific consideration of rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 prior to the Director General of Health directing 14 Councils around New Zealand to fluoridate its water supply. The judgment was not about the public health merits of fluoridation and did not quash the directions to fluoridate drinking water. The Central Government direction still remains.

Chief Executive Monique Davidson says, “We are in a difficult position. We have been directed by Central Government to continue working towards fluoridating Levin’s water supply, but there is also a High Court preliminary ruling that a national directive to fluoridate water was unlawful. There is another High Court hearing in February next year which we hope will provide more clarity. In the meantime, we are pausing work on the project.”

There was robust debate in Council chambers during a Council Meeting on Wednesday 13 December 2023 regarding the fluoridation mandate, the preliminary High Court ruling and what the next steps should be.

Councillors were divided about a way forward, and were unable to form a majority in providing direction to the Chief Executive.  As a result, given there is currently a contract in place to deliver the work and central government direction remains in place, Chief Executive Monique Davidson has requested an extension from the Ministry of Health to push the deadline back until 30 June 2024.

In the event that the direction remains in force, the extension will allow time for the High Court decision, and any subsequent guidance and action from that decision as well as sufficient time to complete the fluoridation project.

We are one of 14 Local Authorities who received the direction from the Director General of Health under section 116E of the Health Act 1956.

The affected Local Authorities were able to apply for financial assistance for capital projects to help make the change from an $11.3M fund, but they could not opt out of fluoridating water supplies.

Following the initial mandate, we investigated options on how to fluoridate the Levin town water supply and sought proposals from four suppliers to fluoridate the Levin Water Treatment Plant system.

We’ve been working closely with the Ministry of Health on how we were progressing with the Levin Fluoride project, and have chosen a fluoridation system consisting of Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (HFA) at the Levin Water Treatment Plant should the mandate still stand.  This includes reusing and modifying the existing hydrogen peroxide area for the HFA system, which is required by the Health Act 1956 to fluoridate Levin’s drinking water supply.

The Ministry of Health has approved in principle the full funding of up to $1,037,308 for the implementation of fluoridation of the Levin water supply. HDC has also applied for an operational cost of $40k per year. Given the pause on the project, Officers are working with the Ministry of Health to recover the costs to date.

The Fluoridation of Levin Water Treatment Plant report is available online at horowhenua.infocouncil.biz under ‘Released Public Excluded Documents’, dated 13 December 2023.