Release of Wellington Water Fluoridation Inquiry

Published on 08 July 2022

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A message from Wellington Water

Wellington Water’s Board and management have committed to implement the findings of an independent inquiry into the events that resulted in fluoridation being turned off at the Te Marua and Gear Island Water Treatment Plants in May and November 2021.

“The inquiry findings clearly identify where and how we failed, and we again apologise for those failings,” Lynda Carroll, Chair of Wellington Water’s Board says.

“The findings and recommendations provide us with a clear direction on improvements we can make to ensure we deliver the level of performance that our customers and stakeholders expect and deserve. Many of these actions were put in place in parallel to the inquiry. Our focus was on putting the situation right as soon as possible,” Lynda says.

“When the Board commissioned this independent inquiry, we were determined that the inquiry would not slow the work to restore fluoride back in the drinking water at Te Marua and Gear Island. It is positive to see that Wellington Water management has already addressed a number of the findings ahead of the inquiry being completed.”

Chief Executive Colin Crampton says Wellington Water is committed to ensuring the mistakes do not happen again and completing the implementation of the inquiry recommendations are the highest priority alongside water quality and safety.

“We have worked at pace while the inquiry was underway which is acknowledged in the inquiry report. 

“We have a September target date for getting fluoride back into the drinking water at the two plants. Greater Wellington Regional Council has approved funding to construct purpose-built standalone fluoride facilities for both plants. We have improved our fluoridation reporting to councils, on our website, in our Statement of Intent and as a formal performance measure,” says Colin.

“We’ve also developed a detailed implementation plan to address the inquiry’s five recommendations. Our work will focus on building on communications, risk identification and increased transparency to continue to give our Board, stakeholders and the public assurance that we’re doing our job properly.”

“We have worked hard to improve our performance during the inquiry and will continue to do so as we implement its recommendations,” says Lynda.

“Our focus continues to be on delivering on our council commitments, and continuing to put our customers’, communities’ and mana whenua needs at the forefront of what we do so all get the best out of the services we are funded to provide.” 

In summary, the inquiry found that:

  1. Fluoridation for oral health wasn’t a priority for Wellington Water
  2. Drinking water has been safe, but not optimally fluoridated
  3. Fluoridation was stopped in order to ensure the safety of drinking water and operators, with no plan to turn it back on
  4. There were long-standing challenges to providing fluoridation safely
  5. There was good awareness of these issues within the organisation at operational levels, and attempts to address them, albeit slowly
  6. There were organisational challenges to raising and addressing issues
  7. The Board didn’t have the technical expertise to realise that they needed to be asking questions about fluoride in relation to oral health
  8. Escalation and communication of the decision to stop fluoridation took too long
  9. The complexity of the Wellington Water model makes service delivery challenging
  10. The prospect of reform appears to be challenging for Wellington Water’s performance
  11. There may be a capacity issue for the Board

The inquiry has made five recommendations, which have been accepted by the Wellington Water Board:

  1. Maintain a relentless focus on effective fluoridation in both the short and long term
  2. Make sure the Board has the right collective experience and knowledge to govern effectively
  3. Provide greater clarity of roles, responsibilities, and processes for managing fluoridation issues within Wellington Water
  4. Improve the standard of asset management
  5. Continue to strengthen the regulatory function at Wellington Water

A copy of the full inquiry report and related material is available on the Wellington Water website