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Fluoride independent inquiry 2022

In 2021, we stopped the fluoride facilities at the Te Mārua Water Treatment Plant in May and at the Gear Island Water Treatment Plant in November due to operational and health and safety issues, which meant we could not guarantee that we could add fluoride safely. At the time we didn’t tell anyone we did this, and we apologise for that, and the concern caused.

In March 2022, we announced that the fluoride facilities at Te Mārua and Gear Island had been stopped. However, we provided people with an incorrect date for when we stopped fluoridation at the plants, which we corrected the next day. Again, we acknowledge that this falls short of the expectations of our customers and communities, and we apologise for the concern caused.

Since then, we have worked at pace to safely restore fluoride at the Te Mārua and Gear Island Water Treatment plants. To do this we constructed two new fluoride facilities at Te Mārua and Gear Island and in September 2022 these facilities were operational and reliably fluoridating the drinking water within the Ministry of Health target range.

Independent Inquiry

To fully understand why the fluoride facilities were turned off at the plants and why our customers, community, Councils and our Board were not told of this in a timely and accurate manner, the Wellington Water Board commissioned an independent inquiry in March 2022.

The inquiry was undertaken by MartinJenkins and completed in late June 2022. The Board received and accepted all the inquiry’s recommendations in early July 2022 . Since then all the recommendations have been implemented.

In November 2022, the inquiry was formally closed out by the Board.

Inquiry findings

The inquiry found:

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

Inquiry recommendations

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 


Implementing the recommendations

We have implemented the recommendations from the inquiry. This work was completed by 1 October 2022 and in November 2022 the Board formally closed out the inquiry.

To implement the recommendations, we:

  • built on the communications and increased transparency that was put in place throughout the inquiry to ensure we continue to give our Board, stakeholders and public the assurance that we’re doing our job effectively;
  • developed and implemented a policy which ensures that the Chief Executive and the leadership team are advised of issues of significance so that events that were under inquiry do not occur again and we can address them speedily; 
  • continue to improve our asset management systems, which may require us to seek additional funding from our councils in the longer term; and 
  • continue to strengthen our regulatory and compliance function. We have also reviewed the focus of the role of risk and assurance in the organisation. This ensures we are providing our Board, stakeholders and the public with the right level of assurance that we are managing risks appropriately.

Our detailed implementation programme plan can be read here.

The inquiry also reviewed a technical report on the levels of fluoridation at our water treatment plants for the past five years. A copy of that report can be read here.

The full report of the Independent Inquiry into cessation of water fluoridation by Wellington Water report can be read here.

Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act Requests

We received a number of Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act requests for fluoride, and we have published our responses on our  Official Information Act Responses page.

Timeline of key events

07 22 WW FluorideTimeline 2