Town of Fairview residents had the chance to listen to speakers on both sides of the fluoride debate Tuesday evening and at least 70 people showed up and signed in (there may have been a few who did not sign in). However, with the debate between the two sides being inconclusive it’s difficult to see what conclusions they might have made.
Director of public works Garry Leathem started off the evening by explaining what Fairview does at present. The chemical used (hydrofluorosilicic acid) costs $2,000 per year and the water treatment plant is licensed to add it to the water supply although operators must keep the concentration in the water around 0.7 mg/litre. Leathem explained that if they go more than .2mg/l above or below that level they have 24 hours to get the concentration back where it should be before reporting the plant as out of compliance. He explained the testing required usually takes about an hour but when the operator has run into problems it has taken as long as four hours.
Dr. de Villiers and Dr. Luke Shwart spoke on behalf of Alberta Health in favour of fluoridation, Dr. James Beck against with the Alberta Health team of de Villiers and Shwart speaking first.
The starting point was a series of questions that included: is it safe? Is it ethical? Is it effective? De Villiers and Shwart said yes, Beck said no.
De Villiers and Shwart carefully explained how Alberta Health and Health Canada used existing scientific studies as a basis for their approval of fluoridation to improved general dental health. They quoted several studies showing fluoridation is effective in improving dental health and is not linked to any health problems bar fluorosis which they say is more of a esthetic problem than a health problem.
“We reached this position [on fluoridation] not just willy-nilly. We’ve looked at all the data, all the ongoing research, all the published literature.”
Beck went on the attack from the start, saying the studies were incorrect or biased or misrepresented the authors’ actual intent. He also disagreed with their take on fluorosis, saying it can be very serious.
He did not cite any studies for his own conclusions but did offer to give website addresses with information about the studies that favour his side.
Beck said councillors have a tough job making the decision to fluoridate or not and likened it to a doctor trying to give a patient a drug without consent, without a prescription a drug which hasn’t been approved for the purpose it’s being given and the dosage isn’t controlled.
Beck went so far as to compare fluoridation to thalidomide and Shwart called it a smear tactic.
Beck said he merely meant to point out that doctors have made mistakes before.
He doesn’t accept the 1955 plebiscite as giving consent and said most plebiscites are close decisions with only a few percentage points between the yes and no side.
Councillor Tony Prybysh rebutted that by saying the conservative government rules with only 30% of the vote, “it’s the way the system works.”
As for the drug being approved, Health Canada does approve of the use of fluoride for water treatment as does Alberta Health and the amount in the water is very tightly controlled, although Dr. Beck did point out the total amount an individual ingests will vary with how much water they drink.
De Villiers and Shwart pointed out the health authorities have to take that into consideration as well as varying levels of health when they determine safe concentrations for drinking water.
The question came from the audience asking which would make more difference to children’s dental health – getting a proper diet with no junk food or having fluoride in the water.
Shwart said without hesitation proper diet would have a greater affect but would be much more difficult to bring about than fluoridation of the water supply.
At the end of the debate/forum, CAO Davidson asked everyone to fill out a questionnaire which asked how they felt about fluoridation, whether the town should stop it, continue it or take it to a plebiscite.
The next town council meeting should show where council is prepared to go on the question.
In the weeks before the forum, AHS had done a phone survey, talking to local residents and sounding them out on the topic and apparently 60% of those they talked to are in favour of continuing fluoridation.