BRANTFORD – Brantford was the first city in Canada to add fluoride to its water back in 1945 but some city councillors wonder if the practice is still necessary.
“I believe in fluoride. I just don’t know if we need to do that now or not,” Ward 5 Coun. Brian Van Tilborg said at a city council committee-of-the-whole meeting on Tuesday. “I don’t have the answer in front of me.
“We’re looking at a $200,000 expenditure and all I have in front of me is a broken machine.”
Van Tilborg made the comments during a discussion on a resolution calling on the city to spend $200,000 to upgrade its fluoridation system. The city is looking at switching to a liquid form of fluoride from powder because the existing powder form is causing too many problems.
The powder form has a tendency to settle downstream of the injection point and the accumulation is causing problems to city infrastructure leading to breakdowns and repairs. The problem has become so severe, city officials stopped adding fluoride to the water in October.
They have spent the past several months looking for an interim and permanent solution to the problem. The permanent solution calls for a switch to a liquid from at a cost of $200,000.
Councillors voted in favour of the expenditure at Tuesday’s meeting. Their decision will come before council for final approval next week.
Prior to Tuesday’s discussion Mayor Chris Friel cautioned councillors to stick to the issue in front of them — the $200,000 expenditure — and to avoid debating the merits of adding fluoride to municipal drinking water.
But while his caution may have prevented an all out debate on fluoridation, it didn’t stop some councillors including Van Tilborg from raising the issue.
Although the city was a leader in fluoridation and Van Tilborg understands its value, a lot has change since 1945. Toothpaste now has fluoride and he wonders if adding it to the water is still necessary.
When Ward 1 Coun. Rick Weaver wanted to know if the question of fluoridation could be put to the voters in the community, city clerk Lori Wolfe was asked to explain the process.
“It’s a contentious issue with a lot of passion on both sides of the topic,” Weaver said later. “Many municipalities have discussed this matter but I think it’s the type of topic that should get a plebiscite.
“That’s why I asked the clerk’s department to explain the process.”
Weaver would like to see a petition to let council know if citizens want fluoridation to be something they can vote on come election time.
“The process in the fluoridation act sets out how we can do this,” Weaver said. “If council gets a petition with 10 percent of our population agreeing to vote on this we can move forward with the plebiscite.
“I think this is the fairest and most transparent way we can deal with this issue.”
Friel said he has no problem listening to both sides of the debate on the fluoride issue.
However, it is an issue that should be raised closer to the next municipal election.
“If someone on council wants to take the lead on it that’s fine,” Friel said on Wednesday. “But at Tuesday night, that wasn’t the issue that was before us.
“The fact is we have a fluoridation system that needs to be fixed and that’s what we had to deal with.”
The city adds fluoride to its water and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, he added.
Meanwhile, it appears the city’s problems with fluoridation go back to 2011.
Dr. Malcolm Lock, Brant County’s Medical Officer of Health, said the city’s redesigned fluoridation system that began operating in October 2011 has only been operational for intermittent periods of time.
“Despite many efforts to resolve accurate dosing, the fluoridation process has been unable to reach consistent therapeutic fluoride levels since its inception,” Lock said in response to questions from The Expositor.
However, he said there are no short-term negative health effects from lowered fluoride levels.
“The city has assured us that Brantford water is safe to drink,” Lock said. “The health unit and the city are working together to restore therapeutic water fluoridation so residents can receive the long-term, cavity-prevention benefits of fluoridated water.”
Waterloo Region stopped adding fluoride after holding a referendum on the issue six years ago and in Calgary the city council voted to stop adding fluoride five years ago. Windsor has also stopped the practice.
The issue came before council in May 2010 when a group opposed to municipal water fluoridation tried to convince the city that it was bad for residents’ health, ineffective against tooth decay and costs the city too much money.
However, the group’s arguments were ultimately rejected by city councillors.