Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Update: water fluoridation for Bristol issue

Following my email (here) to NHS Bristol and the South West Regional Health Authority expressing concern on the issue of water fluoridation I have received a reply and have the permission of its author to reproduce it (below - I've emphasised some parts in bold type).

I dont agree with Dr Annett's judgement that it is a 'reasonable...means' and would much prefer that full consideration is given to the ethical issues involved right from the off as opposed to just looking at technical matters. Issues like this should be looked at as a whole, as all its various aspects interact.

It may just be inexact writing but I'm also somewhat concerned at this statement '...NHS Bristol will ensure that the public have every opportunity to understand why fluoridation could be an effective public health intervention...' because its far from sufficiently balanced by the words that follow '...and also learn of some of the concerns people may have.' - not the strong emphasis on looking at both sides without bias that I would advocate. Having said this I have since had a message from NHS Bristol which makes reference to presenting a balanced case for and against and asking me if I would be interested in featuring in this process (which I've said yes to).

Dear Mr Vowles,

Re: Fluoridation of Bristol’s Water Supply

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the potential fluoridation of Bristol’s water supply.

To avoid any confusion, I assume the release to which you are referring is titled: “Call for public consultation on fluoridation”. This release (or rather statement) was issued by the Department of Health on February 5 2008.

However, you are correct about NHS Bristol considering the fluoridation of Bristol’s drinking water. In recent months, NHS Bristol and our neighbouring PCTs have considered whether the fluoridation of drinking water could be a reasonable and cost-effective means of improving overall dental health and help reduce dental inequalities.

Dr Annett has concluded that it could, and he is recommending that the PCT request NHS South West to commission a technical feasibility study.

At this stage I would like to reassure you that no decisions have yet been made. Requesting a feasibility study is the first step in a process which may, or may not lead to a decision to fluoridate Bristol’s water.

If, and only if, the feasibility study supports fluoridation then the next stage of the process is a rigorous and transparent public consultation where we seek the views of as wide a representation of Bristol’s (and the surround areas) population before any decision is made.

We are committed to ensuring that the debate will be an open and transparent process ensuring the public have their say and will make final representations based upon the consensus of the views of the population. The consultation is externally regulated, and we are bound – by a legal and moral obligation – to ensure that we consult as widely and as completely as possible, and that it is the citizens of Bristol and potentially the wider neighbouring regions that make this important decision.

Throughout the process NHS Bristol will ensure that the public have every opportunity to understand why fluoridation could be an effective public health intervention and also learn of some of the concerns people may have.

If the feasibility study confirms that fluoridation is feasible and cost effective in treatment of water for Bristol, NHS Bristol’s opinion that the population – particularly those in deprived areas – would benefit from a combination of fluoridation of the water and the ongoing commitment to raising awareness of dental health issues which NHS Bristol demonstrates.

If implemented, the fluoridation of Bristol’s water supply will sit alongside a great deal of ongoing pro-active, community facing initiatives we have at improving dental health.

Interestingly, in the near future we are running a campaign aimed at filling NHS Dental entitlements at surgeries throughout Bristol – it may surprise you to note that a large number of surgeries struggle to attract enough NHS patients to their doors.

I appreciate you contacting me and hope that I have answered some of your questions and outlined more clearly the decision making process for fluoridation.

Yours faithfully,

NHS Bristol


You can contact NHS Bristol here info@bristolpct.nhs.uk , and the Strategic Health Authority via go@southwest.nhs.uk

Friday, 20 February 2009

Cowculating the impacts of council-run herd

Received this online invitation to comment on todays Post story that 'Bristol City Council wants to run its own herd of cows to provide beef for the city's schools and posh restaurants....'

'Don't cows produce lots of pesky methane? You know, that 'greenhouse gas', 20 times more potent than CO2, responsible for all that anthropomorphic (bovomorphic?) global warming? Hardly very responsible, is it guys? What do you think, Glenn Vowles? '(Mark, Scrabble Champion...)


Still working out the figures on my cowculator Mark! Moooo-re on this later perhaps.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Are sea level rises real? If so, what problems are caused?

Changing sea levels reshape whole coastlines, often affecting densely populated areas. Scientists want to understand sea level as thoroughly as possible, given the climate change problem, and have gathered increasing amounts of data. G Best’s letter (‘Where is the evidence of rising water levels?’, Open Lines, 17 Feb) says rising sea levels are ‘scares’ and requests the evidence. Maybe he thinks sea level rise does not exist because he has not noticed it with his own eyes? I can assure him that there is plenty of reliable evidence showing it!

DEFRA, the Environment Agency and South West Observatory data has identified which regional coastal sites and features are most at risk from sea level rise within the next 20 years. Sites at high risk according to them include: Westbury Court Garden, Bossington, Lundy Access Road, Godrevy, Penberth, St Michael’s Mount, Mullion Harbour, Cotehele Quay, South Milton Sands, Black Ven/Lyme Regis, Golden Cap, Studland, and Brownsea. Sites at medium risk include: Middlehope & Sandpoint, Brean Down, Woolacombe, Boscastle Harbour, Wembury, Greenway Quay, Burton Bradstock.

South West sea levels are set to rise between 20-80cm by the 2080s, depending on whether and by how much we all cut or increase emissions. Newlyn in Cornwall has one of the longest sea level records in the UK and sea level here was 161mm higher in 2006 than when records began in 1916 on average. Average wave height increased, from 1.8m in 1962 to 2.3m today (Seven Stones Light-vessel). Such changes may adversely affect sea defences, harbours, homes, businesses, infrastructure, maritime heritage as well as natural assets and biodiversity according to the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory.

The National Trust has published research into the long-term future of the coastline and the impact that climate change (through sea level rise, coastal flooding and increased erosion) was predicted to have on this coast over the next century. In the south west 279 kilometres of National Trust coastline are at risk from erosion, with 852 hectares of Trust coastal sites becoming at risk of tidal flooding.

Information on global sea level rise, published by NASA in June 2006 showed sea level rose, on average, 3 millimetres per year between 1993 and 2005. Half of this was attributed to melting ice and the other half to thermal expansion as the ocean absorbs excess energy. Due to climate change scientists at NASA and elsewhere are particularly concerned about: thermal expansion—the tendency of warm water to take up more space than cooler water; the addition of water to the sea from melting glaciers; and changes in salinity, given that fresh water is less dense than salt water and therefore takes up slightly more space than an equal mass of salt water.

Do Something About It

I'm supporting the progressive politics organisation Do Something About It, which I originally came across through a friend on Facebook. I've signed their petition which says:

We call on the Prime Minister to supplement the banking bail-out with a British New Deal that will create jobs and lay the foundations for a greener, fairer future, less dependent on the demands of the financial sector.


http://www.dosomethingaboutit.org.uk/home.php


I hope many others will sign up.


This is how Do Something About It describe who they are and what they are about:


dosomethingaboutit.org.uk calls for government to:--lay the foundations for a diverse economy, less dependent on the demands of the financial sector--invest in green industries and energy production, as well as the skills needed for them to flourish--recognise that extreme inequalities between the very richest and the rest are socially unsustainable--commit to a fairer society, in which social enterprise and initiative are not stifled by lack of time and resources

dosomethingaboutit.org.uk aims to provide a service for busy but concerned progressives - keeping you up-to-date on how you can get involved in the fight for a progressive future, whether by signing a petition, contacting government ministers, or writing to your local MP. If you have a cause you'd like us to champion, or a petition you'd like to see set up, please get in touch.

dosomethingaboutit.org.uk is not affiliated with any political party. We aim to support progressive candidates whatever their progressive political affiliation - whether they be Labour or Liberal Democrat, members of Plaid Cymru, the SNP, or the Greens. Anyone committed to a progressive agenda, whether they are already part of one of these political parties or independent, is welcome to join.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Our carbon footprints

Climate change is a serious and urgent issue (report on the latest science here). Carbon emitted faster than it is absorbed is causing it. Thus the rising focus on carbon footprints as an indicator of environmental impact. We can both assess the scale of the problem and then monitor progress towards target low emission levels. The average personal carbon footprint in the UK is currently 12 tonnes per year (in the USA its 20 tonnes). A key provision of the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 is a cut in emissions of at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. To achieve sustainable UK emissions, allowing for rising population, we are talking about between 1 and 2 tonnes per person each year.

Its not just carbon in the form of carbon dioxide emitted when fossil fuels are burned that is counted. All emissions that add to the greenhouse effect and cause climate change are converted to their carbon dioxide equivalent and expressed in tonnes or kilograms of this gas (a footprint in tonnes may seem odd but that’s because the name is drawn from the ecological footprint). Gases converted to their carbon dioxide equivalent include methane, nitrogen oxides, various hydrocarbons.

Carbon emissions arise through fuel use for heating, lighting and transport. These are direct and we have reasonable control over them. Emissions also arise less directly because they are embedded in the products and services we use, from the production and disposal ends of their lifecycle. Its harder to have control over these though of course we can alter the type and number of products and services we consume.

Picture a system boundary around a city, a person, a house, factories, offices, a country, group of countries – the carbon footprint of each can be assessed. A boundary can be drawn around various products, say beef or cars, and the carbon footprint of the product’s lifecycle assessed. Organisations want to know their carbon footprint for energy and/or environmental management purposes, prioritising and quantifying effective, efficient and economic action. Growing numbers use the data in corporate social responsibility reports, responses to customer and investor requests. Organisations as diverse as Ipswich Town Football Club and Marks and Spencer have carbon neutral policies. Carbon footprint figures are appearing on a range of products, including Walkers crisps, Innocent Drinks smoothies and Boots shampoo…to enable informed consumer choices.

The carbon footprint concept is itself inevitably a simplification of reality. The computer models used to calculate footprints are further inevitable simplifications. This is both a plus and a minus of course. As with all measurement and calculation, care and preparation is needed when establishing and reporting figures. Independent verification may often be appropriate. Caution and checks are needed to ensure fair comparisons. Footprint standards are bringing methods closer together, making data more consistent and comparable.

Carbon footprints relate to one key environmental impact - climate change – and according to the Global Footprinting Network amount to half the ecological footprint (and not all types of environmental impact can be converted to the land area ecological footprints establish). This is a very significant proportion of the ecological footprint and so it is essential to establish it. However, we must not forget the other ways we are breaching environmental limits as measured by: overfishing; socio-economic effects; deforestation; species extinction; our water footprint; the spread of monocultures; deaths due to toxic pollution; quality of life reduction from noise and visual impacts, and more.

Sustainability is a whole system phenomenon. Types of impact are interrelated. If we don’t take a whole system approach to finding solutions our actions may be ineffective or cause further damage through effects we did not intend or anticipate. The dash for biofuels provides a timely lesson for us. Carbon footprinting is an excellent tool for awareness raising, getting a sense of the overall scale of the problem and progress made toward reduction targets but we must combine it with other measures and make good judgements on how problems interlink.


Statement to council committee on Elizabeth Shaw Factory and surrounding land

Former Elizabeth Shaw Factory and surrounding land

Statement about planning application number: 08/03862/F,
submitted to council and which I hope to read out at the planning committee meeting Weds 18 Feb:

I currently have a complaint lodged with the Local Government Ombudsman (ref 08 013 849/LMP) which relates directly to this planning application and a number of other issues. Its been with an investigator for a month or so now. I will be in discussions with the investigator over the coming weeks and have asked them to look at several issues relating to this application.

Given that the LGO process is ongoing and involves both broad matters about policy and procedures not being followed and matters specific to the planning application it would in my view be inappropriate for the committee to proceed further with considering this application at this stage, unless you are minded to refuse permission. It forms a very important part of the context. If further details of my LGO complaint are required during any delay I will supply them.
___________________________________________________________________
Update (25 Feb) - Received official confirmation in writing that the committee has deferred finally deciding on this issue probably until 1 April (no joke) - but only on the grounds that they await the successful completion of a legal (S106) agreement, the terms of which had not been finalised at the time of the meeting. Unfortuneately this will be the only matter they will discuss from now (unless something striking happens during Feb/March) as they are minded to approve the application. Not sure what effect, if any, the change of administration following Helen Holland's resignation will have. I will know more about the LGO complaint before the committee next meets I hope but it seems unlikely that the committee will take any notice - even if the decision is very damning!!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Tesco/The Friendship

Statement about the Tesco application 08/04903/F to build a car park on The Friendship pub garden which I have submitted and plan to read out at the meeting of the relevant planning committee (Development Control South and East) this Weds 18 Feb:

The applicant here is Tesco and that sets the context which determines the meaning of the application. The paper petition and my e-petition, http://epetitions.bristol.gov.uk/petition.php?id=231
outline exactly why very, very large numbers of local people feel very strongly and say no to this planning application. They see the big picture and ask that the committee does this too. They know the area best and fully appreciate the detrimental effects.

With just text and a scale drawings to go by it must be very difficult for the committee to fully appreciate what the area in and around The Friendship is like now and what it would be like if Tesco’s plans come to fruition. I recommend that you visit the area before making a decision on this application.

I believe that if you visited the area you would agree with me, a current Knowle resident who lived for several years directly opposite the pub garden, that these words in the Design and Access Statement ‘…the proposal is successful in providing safe and convenient access….’ is in fact false. Cars turning into and out from the car park have no proper view if turning right due to the high wall and a highly restricted view if turning left. Additionally the car park design does not facilitate good flow in and out. Cars will be parked near the car park as well as exiting driveways. The close proximity of the proposed car park exit and entrance to the brow of Redcatch Hill and the Redcatch Rd and Friendship Rd turnings presents a significant additional hazard over the present situation.

Applicants Tesco seek to ‘…maximise the accessibility of the site through providing increased car parking…’ (Design and Access Statement). Increased parking capacity for cars means increased traffic flow on roads that are already increasingly busy. This means an increase in all that comes with more traffic, including additional: accident risk; noise; air pollution; climate change; light pollution (car lights and car park lighting); congestion, delay and stress.

Several mature trees with good biodiversity value will be removed if plans proceed and replacement trees take many years to establish. The green area will be lowered. The wildlife value of the area will decrease and can’t recover to its current level therefore. This is in opposition to the new local biodiversity policy.

Local quality of life and sustainability will decrease if this car park is built. This is in opposition to local policies aimed at creating a green city. It is in opposition to the new Climate Change Act with its tough carbon emissions target.
___________________________________________________________________

Update (25 Feb) - had official confirmation in writing that we have successfully persuaded the committee members defer the decision and to visit the site before deciding (visit will take place on the morning of 1 April and the planning application will be decided on that afternoon at the council house). This is good news as far as it goes. We have further work to do illustrating to the councillors on the committee just why this planning application should be refused. Tesco also have time to rethink and replan, as appropriate, between now and 1 April. You have to smile at the date this is all happening on!!

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Power of the Community: film show 27 Feb

Open Meeting: Film and discussion

The Power of the Community
- how Cuba survived peak oil

Southbank Club (formerly Holy Cross), Dean Lane
Southville


Friday 27 February, 7pm to 8.30 pm
(doors open 6.30pm)

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba's economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half – and food by 80 percent – people were desperate. This film tells of the hardships and struggles as well as the community and creativity of the Cuban people during this difficult time. Cubans share how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. It is an unusual look into the Cuban culture during this economic crisis, which they call "The Special Period." The film opens with a short history of Peak Oil, a term for the time in our history when world oil production will reach its all-time peak and begin to decline forever. Cuba, the only country that has faced such a crisis – the massive reduction of fossil fuels – is an example of options and hope.
http://www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/index.php

Speaker: Wendy Emmett – environmentalist and follower of the Cuba experience. Just returned from leading an environmental study tour of Cuba.

Free entrance (bucket collection proceeds go to the organisers, Bristol South Green Party and Bristol Cuba Solidarity).

Bar Available!!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

No global warming??

John from Whitchurch seems to think that the brief spell of recent cold weather we’ve had in the UK is evidence that there is no global warming (‘Global warming? You must be joking’, Open Lines, Feb 12). Questioning of evidence is what science is all about and I’m all in favour of it. John seems not to have applied this principle to the evidence he uses however.

His evidence is only for a very, very short period of weeks and days. He refers to information only from the UK. Climate is about decades of changes not short term weather. Climatic change as now discussed, of which global warming is only one aspect (albeit very important), is a phenomenon which is global and which is tracked over geological time (hundreds, thousands and millions of years).

Has he considered whether the recent weather around the globe fits predictions made by the scientific ‘experts’ he scoffs at? Has he looked at patterns and trends over long periods of time and over large areas of the globe as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have in their independent work for the United Nations?

John very properly asks who these ‘experts’ are and what qualifications they have but this information has been very widely publicised for years now. The IPCC were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work last year! There is no doubt that the United Nations are served by very well qualified scientists as are hundreds of governments and thousands of businesses and scientific institutions all around the globe. They have all assessed the evidence and conclude that climate change is real, very serious and requiring urgent, large scale action! However, its not the fact that they are ‘experts’ that convinces me about climate change – it’s the fact that their central evidence and their expertise has passed continual and rigorous testing. This testing rightly continues to be an essential part of the problem solving process.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The views of England's 11 million children

Good report in today's local paper about the visit of the Children's Commissioner for England, Professor Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, to Bristol. He was here doing his job - hearing what matters to children, ensuring that adults in charge really listen to their views, interests and needs and working to improve children's lives. He reported that children tell him that these things very important to them: family; stability; friendship. Visit his website to find out more and to contribute: http://www.11million.org.uk/

Previous relevant blog entries:

http://vowlesthegreen.blogspot.com/2007/10/really-enact-principle-needs-and-future.html

http://vowlesthegreen.blogspot.com/2007/09/children-need-real-play-food.html

http://vowlesthegreen.blogspot.com/2007/02/importance-of-understanding-children.html

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Upside down price incentives

The figures in the letter from Phillip Morris, Bristol to Newcastle by train £116.70 and by plane £43.98, show a clear financial incentive to fly (‘Why take the train when the plane is so much cheaper’, Open Lines, February 10). Our society often has its financial incentives upside down because of the way it shifts the social and environmental cost burden onto society and onto future generations instead of factoring them fully into the price individuals pay now.

Phillip’s flight to Newcastle emits between 122 and 160 kg of carbon dioxide for every passenger. Going by train would emit between 37 and 59 kg of carbon dioxide pollution per passenger. The environmental advantage of the train is very clear but it is not reflected in the price paid.

We should reassess all modes of transport and adjust price incentives using a mix of regulation and taxation. Travelling by rail needs to become cheaper and flying more expensive, to reflect their total costs. The huge subsidies to the airports industry hidden in government funding for regional development, roads and airport infrastructure need to go. £9 billion a year for investment in greener transport like trains would be gained if aviation fuel was taxed and aviation transactions were subject to VAT.

A vote for Bristolians on a congestion charge proposal - once we have one!!

'Opponents of congestion charges are calling for the people of Bristol to be given a chance to vote on the issue – on local elections day, June 4.' reports the local paper's website today.

I'm very strongly in favour of Bristolians voting on a proposal for large, additional investment in public transport to be followed by the introduction of a congestion charge which will then raise further money for investment in public transport. However, we need a specific proposal showing the details first so that we all know what we are voting on! On this occasion I agree with Cllr Mark Bradshaw's good sense view (extract below) rejecting voting this summer therefore.

"But we are not simply going to reject the possibility given the demand for better, more integrated public transport and the need for a huge injection of funding to pay for this.

"Though the West of England Partnership is exploring various models for congestion charging, which could be part of this bid if it occurs, it is a long way from any firm proposals.

Its close minded to reject all and any proposals that involve congestion charging - and clear political opportunism in the months running up to local and European elections. Solving Bristol's serious transport problems must mean keeping options open and giving serious consideration to proposals once the details are available - form a view then!!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Congestion charge for Bristol still on the agenda

Bristol’s horrendous traffic continues to lower our health, wellbeing and quality of life. This will continue to damage present and future generations if we don’t do something soon that is effective. I’m therefore glad that Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has said that congestion charging for big cities is still on the agenda ( ‘ Road charge ‘on agenda’ ’, Post, February 9). Due to their no vote Manchester wont now be receiving the very large investment in public transport improvements that comes before congestion charging is introduced. However, that money is available for other cities and our need for transport investment is great, so it makes sense not to rule out options.

Bristol’s transport problems are serious: every day too many vehicles are trying to use local roads; there are very limited possibilities for building more roads and in any case more roads bring more traffic and more damage; drivers spend half their time crawling in jammed traffic; congestion is costing business very large amounts of money; traffic congestion generates more air pollution and produces more climate change causing carbon emissions; congestion causes frustration and raises stress levels.

A congestion charge would try to achieve: significantly reduced traffic in the most congested areas; similarly reduced delays; shorter journey times; reliable delivery times; the saving of many hours of journey time; the raising of large sums of money for re-investment in transport, especially public transport; switching to sustainable transport modes; a boost for public transport use; a system that pays for itself within a few years or less. Very sizeable and additional central government transport investment is promised before congestion charging is introduced.

Lessons from London’s congestion charge should encourage us. Congestion and traffic levels have reduced. The number of cars and car movements has decreased. Movements of buses, coaches and taxis has increased. Tens of thousands more bus passengers enter the charge zone during the morning peak. Bus reliability and journey times have improved and the time passengers wait at bus stops is much lower. There is much less disruption on bus routes due to traffic delay.

We clearly have a serious problem. We have congestion charge proposals that are targeted at solving at least some of the problems, backed by large amounts of money. We have clear evidence that congestion charging in London is producing some significant improvements. If the details of any scheme for Bristol are right, the decision making processes are fair and we can implement the scheme properly then I’m strongly in favour.

Further information and useful links:
http://www.roadpricing.greenisp.org/furtherreading.htm

Friday, 6 February 2009

Unique ecology of the Severn Estuary

John Tanner’s letter dismisses the impacts of building a huge barrage across the Severn as inconveniencing an unnaturally large bird population (‘Setting the record straight on the Severn barrage’, Open Lines, February 5). Bridgewater Tory MP Iain Liddle-Grainger implies a similar sentiment by saying ‘…build a barrage, to hell with the RSPB’ ( ‘Make your minds up’, Post, February 5). What an ill-informed and ill-considered response they give to this complex issue. They should have more respect for the natural world.

The Severn Estuary supports very important habitats. Its ecology is unique. Strong protection under international law exists for such environments and rightly so. Building a huge barrage from Weston-Super-Mare to Cardiff would have very significant impacts on the estuary, its wildlife and landscape. Implications for navigation and flooding are also serious.

Its not just green pressure groups that are expressing grave concerns about a huge barrage and calling for serious consideration of tidal lagoons, tidal stream turbines or a tidal reef. Government bodies like the Environment Agency and Natural England are worried too. They think that a barrage has many implications, including legal ones. They too feel there should be serious consideration of less damaging ways of tapping the Severn's tidal energy.

14 Feb Consultation Event: Redevelopment of Torpoint Road, Kingswear Road & the College Site on Marksbury Road

I'm going to drop in to this consultation event (details from the organisers copied below), to represent the neighbourhood Transition group (Sustainable Knowle) I coordinate. I've had some contact with the organisers already and have forwarded to them some particular areas where I have questions: is there a relationship to the Area Green Space Plan process; can new green spaces be created and/or existing ones improved; is 'mixed development' possible; how green will building standards be; any 'special' features possible eg use of rainwater collected, or 'super-insulation'; affordable/social housing...

Consultation Event: Redevelopment of Torpoint Road, Kingswear Road & the College Site on Marksbury Road

Date: 14th February 2009Time: 11am-3pm (this is a walk-in event)

Location: City of Bristol College, Marksbury Road, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 5JL

Contact: Sean Griffiths, 02072516735, sean@fat.co.uk

Description: Meet the team to discuss proposals for the development of Kingswear Road, Torpoint Road and the College Site at Marksbury Road. Bristol City Council, Knightstone Housing Association and the Homes and Communities Agency have employed architects FAT to come up with ideas for the redevelopment of the site. There is potential to provide new homes and new community facilities. Before work starts on the design proposals we would like to hear your views on the area.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Water fluoridation for Bristol??

In late January Bernard J Seward, a campaigner from the National Pure Water Association and the Safe Water Campaign for Avon, Gloucester and Wiltshire had a letter in the local paper about a possible public consultation in the Bristol area on putting fluoride in all our drinking water. It seems that there is a drive for more water fluoridation from central government. There are therefore understandable concerns that consultations on the issue would not be genuinely open as to the outcome.

I’ve spent a few days looking from all angles at as much information as I can on the issue. There are, however, significant problems obtaining a decent amount of high quality research showing that putting fluoride in drinking water safely and effectively does what it is supposed to do – reduce tooth decay. Available research is often categorised as of only moderate quality because bias and lack of control are evident and analysis is lacking. No clinical trials have been conducted. No license obtained for fluoridated water. Why not? Fluoridated water aims to create bodily changes to fight tooth decay does it not?

Other aspects of the issue defy good scientific practice too. The dose of fluoridated water received by each person depends on the amount of water we drink. Since we all drink different amounts the dose is highly variable – and will be received over a long period of time. Further, the people receiving the dose are highly variable too and unlike being prescribed a treatment by a GP, wont be seen beforehand and wont have their medical history checked. The whole scenario lacks control.

Most of Europe has seen falling rates of tooth decay for several decades – without a policy of widespread water fluoridation. Fluoride is available by choice in toothpaste. Salt containing fluoride could also be made widely available alongside non-fluoridated salt. Those who don’t want to consume fluoride, or have no need to, have a choice now but obviously cannot choose not to drink water and fluoridation is not essential to supplying safe water unlike chlorination to kill bacteria!! If all our drinking water was fluoridated they would therefore be consuming something designed to create bodily changes without their consent. It is the norm in our society to consent to treatment and we should stay consistent with this.

There is no substitute for regular dental check-ups where all sorts of medical issues can be covered. One wonders, given the difficulties people have experienced in recent years with getting an NHS dentist, whether the focus should be there and not with water fluoridation!!

The maximum concentration of fluoride currently allowed in our water is 1.5 mg/l. Any water fluoridation system would have to stay below this legal limit or perhaps an even lower limit would be set. There is always going to be debate over what ‘safe’ levels are. Its clear that the substances used to fluoridate water (sodium fluoride, fluorosilicic acid and sodium fluorosilicate) are, as pure substances, most unpleasant to say the least. That fluorosilicic acid is a by-product from phosphate fertiliser manufacturing hardly adds to the case for its use! Overfeeding of such substances into drinking water has caused serious health problems, as at Hooper Bay in Alaska in the 1990’s, where equipment and human failure resulted in 1 death and 295 cases of fluoride poisoning(details here). Overfeed precautions and plans for defluoridation if limits are exceeded are of course not needed if you don’t fluoridate in the first place!

Key local and regional decision makers and further information:

http://www.southwest.nhs.uk/membersoftheboard.html

http://www.bristolpct.nhs.uk/thetrust/board/profiles.asp

http://www.dwi.gov.uk/

I've written to Dr Hugh Annett, Director of Public Health for NHS Bristol and Bristol City Council via info@bristolpct.nhs.uk , and the Strategic Health Authority via go@southwest.nhs.uk on this issue and hope others will too.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Bristol City Council's recycling record

I'm afraid Steven Moore, Service Director for Environment and Leisure at Bristol City Council, misses the point in his letter ('We're pround of recycling achievements', Open Lines, Jan 31). Is he proud of the fact that over 7000 tonnes of recycling was shipped to Belgium for processing, reducing some of the environmental advantage gained? Is this the best green practice we can expect from an aspiring 'green capital'? Surely we need to move on from the undoubted step in the right direction made in recent years, to make further recycling improvements - a green city is still a very long way off - and abandon waste incineration plans which make recycling improvements harder?

He talked proudly of the council's collection of food waste for composting. Is he proud of the fact that we've spent years sending the material all the way to Dorset in lorries because we didn't plan ahead and establish a local composting facility to coincide with the introduction of the brown bin scheme?? His own figures show that waste for composting travels 233,000 lorry miles every year, reducing some of the environmental gains made.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Looking after ourselves and our relatives

I very much enjoyed the BBC's Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life program broadcast yesterday. David Attenborough's presentation was as full of enthusiasm, wonder and insight as ever. His concluding lines really struck me,

'...above all Darwin has shown us that we are not apart from the natural world. We do not have dominion over it. We are subject to its laws and processes as are all other animals on Earth, to which, indeed, we are related.'

Recognising this and wanting to act accordingly, in my late teens, over 25 yrs ago now, is certainly one of the main reasons I became an active green.
Loads of information/background on Darwin, natural selection and evolution here. Debate on evolution here. Events celebrating 200 yrs since Darwin's birth and 150 yrs since the publication of On the Origin of Species, here.