Fluoride will remain in Hamilton’s water supply at least until this fall.
Hamilton’s Board of Health agreed this week to investigate alternative methods of delivering fluoridation to residents and how much each will cost taxpayers.
And there was at least one councillor who suggested Hamilton hold a referendum on the issue in the 2010 municipal election.
“I’m much more comfortable with a targetted approach so people are actually getting (fluoridation),” said Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie.
Hamilton mountain councillor Terry Whitehead in response to a resident’s presentation, said that only one per cent of fluoridation in the water supply gets to the public. The rest of the water flows into swimming pools, washing machines, baths, golf courses and lawn watering.
“There is no control of the dosage,” said Mr. Whitehead. “We are using water for a lot of other things.”
Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city’s medical officer of health, said it will take until the fall for public health officials to provide the data.
For over three hours the Board of Health listened to competing scientific information over the detriments and benefits of fluoridating drinking water.
Opponents of fluoride in drinking water argue it provides minimal benefits, while over-exposing people to fluoride, possibly up to five times the amount. The high levels of fluoride, they argued, could create health issues within the population, including diabetes, kidney problems, and dental fluorosis, or white spots on teeth.
Carole Clinch, research co-ordinator for the People for Safe Drinking Water, said the main benefit of fluoride is through topical application. If people want to use fluoride, she said, there are ample ways, including by drinking beverages and using toothpaste.
She said there is no need for fluoride to be ingested.
Peter Van Caulart, director of training for the Environmental Training Institute, told board members there is a direct link between children who live under the poverty line and tooth decay.
Opponents argued studies suggested children living in poverty in a municipality that provides fluoridation have a higher rate of tooth decay.
Adding fluoride to the water system, he said, means pouring hydrofluorosilicic acid, and trace amounts of lead, arsenic and cadmium into the city’s drinking water.
Opponents have further argued that fluoride, a mineral, is more associated with being a by-product of industrial waste, than a beneficial product for the public.
“Having a byproduct of industrial waste in the water system is instinctively bad for me,” said Flamborough councillor Margaret McCarthy. “It goes back to all the tobacco propaganda.”
But advocates for fluoridation argued the majority of scientific evidence points to the benefits of adding fluoride into the water system.
Dr. Peter Wiebe, manager of the city’s dental programs, said fluoridated water is the most cost effective way to protect people’s teeth.
Targeted programs, such as topical applications at schools, providing toothbrushes, improving nutrition, he said will be more expensive and not very effective.
“A toothbrush doesn’t solve the problem,” he said. “If they can’t afford toothbrushes, they can’t afford their fruits and veggies.”
He pointed out the estimated annual budget for fluoridation is about $350,000 per year. But if it was discontinued, he argued, providing a clinic for fluoridation would cost half a million dollars, while adding a community bus would cost $250,000 in operating costs.
Public Works General Manager Scott Stewart said a decision needs to be made soon to allow city staff to either upgrade the fluoridation equipment or not. He said the cost would be about $1.2 million.