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Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what areas of the UK receive water supplies which are fluoridated, broken down by (a) water authority and (b) the date fluoridation commenced. [121425]

I have been asked to reply.The information currently available to the Department indicates that water fluoridation schemes are operated by Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent and United Utilities. The schemes were introduced progressively between 1964 and 1985.There are no water fluoridation schemes in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what information he has collated on the safety of fluoride in the human body. [121426]

A review by the University of York found that the evidence showed that fluoridating water helps to reduce tooth decay with no evidence of adverse effects on general health. The report did, however, identify the need for more good quality research and the Department of Health asked the Medical Research Council (MRC) to suggest where it might be possible to strengthen the evidence base.In its report, the MRC stated that available evidence does not suggest a link between water fluoridation and either cancer in general or any specific cancer type, including osteosarcoma or primary bone cancer, but recommended monitoring data collected on the incidence of cancer so that any aberrant trends in populations receiving fluoridated water could be investigated.Other claims have been made for an association between fluoride ingestion and deficiencies in the immune system, reproductive and developmental (birth) defects, and effects on the kidney and gastrointestinal tract. The MRC considered the evidence for any significant health effects to be weak and did not recommend any specific research, although it recommended keeping research in these areas under review.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate he has made of the cost to each health authority in order to implement the fluoridation of public drinking water. [121459]

Individual strategic health authorities would make arrangements with water companies to fluoridate their water, provided their populations were in favour. Costs would be determined by the size of the population covered and the structure of the local water distribution system. Initial conversion costs for a water treatment works might be around £250,000 with running costs, including that of the fluoride, about 40 pence per head of population per year.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what research he has evaluated on the effectiveness of the use of fluoridation of water in reducing caries; [120803](2) what discussions he has had with the Medical Research Council on the impact of water fluoridation on human health. [120802]

All water supplies contain some fluoride and it was from observing different patterns of dental decay in areas of differing levels of naturally fluoridated water that the benefits of fluoride were first observed. The Government commissioned an up-to-date review of the evidence of the relationship between fluoride and health from the national health service Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York. Its report, "A Systematic Review of Water Fluoridation", published in September 2000, concluded that water fluoridation increased the number of children with no tooth decay by 15 per cent. The University of York report did, however, identify the need for more good quality research and the Department commissioned the Medical Research Council (MRC) to advise on how the evidence base might be strengthened. The MRC published its report in September 2002. The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Dental Officer are examining the MRCs research recommendations and will report on the implications for Government policy in the autumn.