Fluoridation Requirement

Like other water supplies in New Zealand, Oamaru’s supply is required by law to meet a number of standards (Drinking Water Standards, Drinking Water Quality Assurance Rules and Drinking Water Aesthetic Values).

This is to ensure people don’t get sick or die from drinking water contaminated by bacteria and other pathogens.

Current status of the Oamaru supply

Oamaru’s water is primarily treated to meet the standards through membrane and ozone filtration. Some chlorine is also added to the supply to ensure the water remains uncontaminated as it makes its way through the network to people’s homes and businesses. The standards require us to keep levels within a set range. The Oamaru supply will be fluoridated by 30 June 2024.

Directive to add fluoride

In July last year, the Director-General of Health directed the Waitaki District Council, under section 116E the Health Act, to add fluoride to the Oamaru water supply. Waitaki is one of 14 local authorities who were directed to fluoridate their water supplies.

In accordance with the Act, Council is required to ensure the Oamaru supply is fluoridated at the optimal levels by 30 June 2024.

The cost of doing so is more than $500,000, including construction of the building required to house the necessary equipment. This cost is being fully funded by Manatū Hauora (the Ministry of Health), following an application made by Council. The ongoing cost of adding fluoride to the supply will be around $40,000 and included in the Water Treatment Plant operating budgets.

Basis for the directive

Data for children aged 0-12 in the SDHB from 2022 show that 32% of children had experienced tooth decay by age five. Māori and Pacific children have significantly worse outcomes with 46% of Māori children experiencing decay by aged 5. The 2017-2020 NZ Health Survey showed that 47.6% of those 15+ in the SDHB had one or more teeth removed in their lifetime due to decay, an abscess, infection, or gum disease.

The Director-General of Health made the directive following consideration of the scientific evidence including Water fluoridation to prevent tooth decay (Cochrane Collaboration 2015), Health effects of water fluoridation: A review of the scientific evidence (PMCSA and Royal Society Te Apārangi 2014) and Fluoridation: An update on evidence (PMCSA 2021).


Did Council push back on the directive?

At the 23 April 2024 meeting of the Waitaki District Council, Council resolved to instruct the Chief Executive to request an extension of time from the Department of Health to the deadline for adding fluoride to the Ōamaru water supply. 

In his letter to the Director General of Health, the Chief Executive outlined the Council’s concerns with the legal position around the decision of the Director General together with strong concerns from sections of the community. 

Council also agreed to advocate to Parliament that under the principles of localism, local communities be given the right to choose whether fluoride is added to their water.

The Mayor, in his letter to the Minister for Health, requested a reconsideration and also noted that as the decision-maker about fluoridation, the Ministry of Health should also be responsible for ensuring information about fluoridation is provided to the communities, rather than councils who have not made the decision.

Waitaki District Council received a response from Dr Diana Sarfati, Director-General of Health last week. In it she cited the High Court relief decision of 16 February 2024, and a subsequent decision on 24 May 2024, as legal basis for not granting extensions for the fluoridation directive.

The letters and further information can be found here.

Regardless of any individual views on fluoridation, Council is required by law to comply with the Ministry’s directive. If Council doesn’t comply, it faces a fine of up to $200,000, followed by $10,000 per day of non-compliance.  

Frequently Asked Questions - Fluoridation

Did Council make this decision?

Council did not make this decision. Since 2021, the power to direct fluoridation has been the preserve of the Director General of Health under the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Act 2021.

This legislation was originally introduced to Parliament in 2016 and was eventually passed in November 2021 with unanimous support from all parties.

Wasn’t the directive found to be unlawful?

An initial ruling by Justice Radich in November 2023 said that the Director-General had not considered the BORA (1990) when issuing the directives which was unlawful. However, in a relief hearing in February 2024, Justice Radich declined to quash the directives and directed the Director-General to assess each directive and amend or withdraw them. The directives therefore remained valid.

In the May 2024 High Court decision, Justice La Hood reaffirmed that Justice Radich’s decision mean Councils complying with the Director-General’s directions are not acting unlawfully.

Has this got anything to do with the UN, the WEF or any other international body?

No. This was a result of New Zealand legislation being introduced in 2016, passed in 2021 by Parliament and the Director General of Health exercising their statutory power to direct Councils to fluoridate.

So which supply is being fluoridated?

The Oamaru supply will be fluoridated. This consists of Oamaru, Ardgowan, Weston, Enfield, Kakanui, Maheno, Herbert, Hampden and Moeraki.

This will not affect private water schemes such as Corriedale Water Management Ltd, the Lower Waitaki scheme or supplies in the Waitaki Valley. Those in Waihemo south of Moeraki; Palmerston, Dunback, Stoneburn – will also not be fluoridated.

Can I withdraw consent for the fluoridation of water?

Council is legally required to follow the direction of the DG of Health under Part 5 of the Health Act 1956. There is no pathway for individuals to withdraw consent for fluoridation.

What else can Council do?

Having written to the Minister for Health, and the Director General of Health, Council has received instruction to comply with their statutory duty.

This included the recent High Court decision 1313, in which an attempt to have Hastings Council’s decision to reintroduce fluoride subject to a Judicial Review was rejected, and the Director General’s authority to direct Councils to fluoridate was upheld.

I have a thyroid issue, will this affect that?

There is a study from the UK, which has come under significant criticism for its methodology and misinterpretation, regarding fluoride and thyroid conditions. An expert response can be found here: Water fluoridation and underactive thyroid - experts respond - Science Media Centre.

There was similar evidence presented here in 2021, noting that there has not been consistent evidence found of a link between fluoridation at the recommended levels: Fluoridation: an evidence update | Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor (pmcsa.ac.nz)

Is fluoridation new for New Zealand?

No, water has been fluoridated in New Zealand for 70 years, beginning in Hastings in 1954. That includes Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Invercargill and other areas.

Will Waitaki District Council be providing a fluoride-free water source in Oamaru?


What does the Ministry of Health say?

You can find their information here.