THE water we drink is about to be tested in the courts.
Fluoridation of the public water supply has been mandatory for the past five decades – but that could be about to change.
Ireland is the only country in Europe with mandatory fluoridation, but growing opposition has already prompted the Department of Health to set up a new review of the practice.
Those in favour argue that it is a safe, effective way of protecting the entire population against dental decay.
They say young children would have four to five more rotten teeth each without fluoride in the water and that it benefits the dental health of all ages.
The anti-fluoridation lobby argues that it is mass medication which overrules freedom of choice and impacts on the health of those with a sensitivity to the chemical.
Now an Irishwoman who says she became aware of the devastating effects of fluoride while suffering from depression is poised to take the first challenge through the courts.
Aisling Fitzgibbon (27), who says her depression lifted after four years when she eliminated fluoride from her diet, is planning to pursue her case within the next two months.
West Cork is spearheading the opposition to fluoridation after six town councils voted against it. Last Monday, Cork County Council voted unanimously for the removal of fluoride from the public water supply.
The councils, however, do not have the power to stop fluoridation since it is government policy and controlled by legislation.
The Department of Health says "the balance of scientific evidence worldwide confirms that water fluoridation, at the optimal level, does not cause any ill-effects and continues to be safe and effective in protecting the oral health of all age groups".
A spokesperson told the Herald that the Department kept the issue under constant review, and the latest review by the Health Research Board, starting next month, would be completed by December.
"The Department is also collaborating in a University College Cork-led research project which will consider the impact of changes on the oral health of children," said the spokesperson.
She added that a study of general oral health and fluoridated water will also start soon as part of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA).
The Anti-Fluoridation Campaign insists the policy is harmful to people, animals and aquatic life and damages the environment.
It considers it "totally unethical and illegal" and says people's right to "personal bodily integrity" is being violated.
Six businesses in Bantry, Co Cork, have installed filtration systems to give customers the choice of fluoride-free food and drinks as part of the Fluoride Free Towns movement which is working with groups in six other West Cork towns.
Campaigners hope that 2014 will be the year when the fluoridation debate takes centre stage.