German ‘reneges’ on optional fluoridation of drinking water

Public health experts say health minister’s policy ignores years of research.

By
August 12, 2014 08:35
3 minute read.
Health Minister Yael German.

Health Minister Yael German 370. (photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)

 
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Three leading public health and dental experts have accused Health Minister Yael German of going back on a commitment to make fluoridation of drinking water optional, according to a letter obtained by The Jerusalem Post, due to be sent to the minister on Tuesday.

Two months ago, the Health Ministry said that German had agreed to cancel her decision to prohibit fluoridation of drinking water around the country – and allow municipalities to decide independently if they wanted it. However, the deadline is due to end August 26 and German has yet to sign the regulation-change that would make it possible.

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Her personal spokeswoman said this was due to “technicalities.”

Hebrew University School of Public Health emeritus Prof. Ted Tulchinsky, Hebrew University- Hadassah Dental Faculty Prof. Harold Sgan-Cohen and his colleague Dr. Yuval Vered said Monday that the minister’s defense of her position was based on “populist arguments, supported by amateur studies – and ignored dozens of years of research in Israel and the world [that absolutely showed] that there is no better health, economic and social substitute for adding fluoride to the tap water in Israel.”

They also accused German of “setting her policy based on a political and sectorial basis.”

Tulchinsky, who had held a senior public health position in the Health Ministry, said: “This is absolutely shocking arrogance.

The health minister has misled the Knesset and the public.

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She has not consulted with the local authorities,” this will harm poor children, primarily in the peripheral communities of the country. “Banning fluoridation is an anti-social measure that will be a scar on her performance and [on] government colleagues who permitted her to initiate and allowed this travesty [to] take place.”

German opposed countrywide fluoridation as health minister since taking office, arguing that if adding the gas was needed “only” to protect children’s teeth from decay, then the entire population should not be exposed to it and other means should be used.

When German was mayor of Herzliya, she stopped fluoridation in her city. But her position on the matter was strongly opposed by the ministry’s top public health experts, who attempted to persuade her of the benefits of fluoridated water.

The nation’s water has been fluoridated for decades, and 405 million people in more than 60 countries around the world get fluoridated water delivered to their taps.

On June 21, leading public health and dentistry experts, the mayor of Dimona and the head of the Beduin Hura local council near Beersheba hurled strong criticism at German for canceling the requirement for municipalities to fluoridate their drinking water last year.

This culminated in a campaign against her policy and the first protest letter, signed by experts in academic public health and dentistry.

In the letter, they had said that millions of households will be forced to spend money to repair the damages caused by this decision and that German would be responsible for serious dental decay in the mouths of underprivileged children who do not have the luxury of getting the fluoride treatments or regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste that well-off children get.

The day after the June protest letter was sent, Director of Public Health Services Prof. Itamar Grotto said on behalf of German that she had changed her mind and decided to sign a regulation that would make the municipalities’ decision to fluoridate an option rather than to prohibit it.

When public health experts learned this week that the minister had not signed the order, they renewed their protests, and over 20 mayors from around the country have been invited to sign a new petition; some have already signed.

These include mayors from Eilat, Dimona, Beersheba, Yeroham, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Bat Yam, Jerusalem, Kiryat Shmona, Kiryat Ata, Elad, Bnei Brak, Modi’in, Rehovot, Ness Ziona, Tivon, Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion and Kiryat Gat.

The ministry refused The Post’s request for an interview regarding the “technical problems” that would require new legislation to allow fluoridation, and had yet to provide an official comment by press time.

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