By JAMES CHAPMAN
Ministers have triggered a major health row by unveiling plans to allow fluoride to be added to all drinking water in England and Wales.
Water companies will be forced to add fluoride if local health authorities order it, despite controversy over the long-term effects on health, the Government confirmed.
The authorities will have to demonstrate that the local population broadly supports such a move, which is designed to reduce dental decay.
But campaigners said they feared fluoridation would be given the green light in many parts of the country after minimal public consultation.
The policy will infuriate environmentalists and consumer groups.
Some believe fluoridation has links to cancer, Down’s syndrome, infant mortality and bone damage.
Up to half of those drinking fluoridated water also suffer ‘dental fluorosis’ – a mottling of the teeth thought to be caused by its effects.
About one in ten people in Britain drink fluoridated water, with some water companies adding it and others refusing to.
Amendments to the Water Bill will shift responsibility for deciding to treat water away from the companies to regional strategic health authorities.
Campaigners said they would be much more likely to agree to add fluoride.
Public health minister Melanie Johnson told MPs that schemes would go ahead only after wide-ranging consultations ‘and the majority of the population have indicated that they are in favour’.
Another five million people in areas such as Birmingham had fluoridated supplies.
The NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination found no evidence of a negative effect on health with fluoridation.
But Jane Jones, campaign director of the National Pure Water Association, said: ‘ Fluoridation is indiscriminate mass medication.
‘ People have an absolute right to determine for themselves what they will and will not put into their bodies. This right is denied when medicine is added to the public drinking water supply.’