An impassioned plea from a Burlington councillor was not enough to make regional health committee members postpone for up to two years the ongoing debate on whether to remove fluoride from Halton’s drinking water.
Instead, committee members voted Tuesday morning to simply defer the issue until the spring, once Health Canada opens the subject up to its own public consultation on the controversial issue.
“I fear council is expected to make a judgement on evidence that only staff can understand,” remarked Burlington Regional Councillor John Taylor at the committee meeting.
Taylor, a former chemist, said council members aren’t scientists and should therefore wait to make a decision on the issue until both Health Canada and Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment have completed reviews of the issue.
Health Canada has confirmed it will finish what it terms an update of its guideline technical document on optimal fluoridation levels in early 2009, at which point it will seek public consultation. However, the MOE said it won’t complete its review until the second half of 2010.
That was too long for some health committee members.
“I don’t want to see this wait for two years,” Halton Hills Councillor Clark Somerville had said before the meeting.
Last month, Somerville made a motion to stop fluoridating water in Halton once current supplies of fluoride are used up and current contracts expire.
The resolution was endorsed by the Region’s Health and Social Services Committee, but council deferred the issue at its meeting November 19.
But, Milton Councillor Colin Best said Monday council members didn’t realize the MOE wouldn’t finish its review until 2010 when it made its original deferral. He said council members were simply looking for a couple months to read over all the statistics they have received supporting both sides of the issue.
It’s one particular study, however, that has caused some concern among Halton residents.
In a report by Dr. Bob Nosal, the Region’s medical officer of health, he included information on the oral health status of children in the region, collected using a ‘Dental Indices Survey’ in randomly-selected elementary schools in each municipality over two-year periods.
Oakville resident, Diane Sprules, included a statistic pulled from that survey in a presentation she prepared for council, which said close to half of Oakville’s 13-year-olds have fluorosis, a condition that results from over-ingestion of fluoride and which is marked by white spots on the teeth.
Nosal said that’s an example of selective use of data.
“That…is information totally taken out of context,” he explained. “It’s a clear misrepresentation of the facts.”
Nosal noted that the survey was never intended to assess the effectiveness of water fluoridation in communities. He also said the same survey showed only 20 per cent of kids from the same age group in Oakville had fluorosis between 2003-05 while 41 per cent had fluorosis in the previous survey taken between 2001-03.
“Clearly, the real number would not have jumped around so much,” Nosal said.
Sprules admitted using what she termed the “most severe” statistic from the report but said: “So what? How am I misrepresenting the data? It’s (Nosal’s) own public health (department) that did the survey.”
“Let’s take the lowest (prevalence of fluorosis),” she added, noting the report showed about 17 per cent of 9- and 13-year-olds in Halton Hills had fluorosis during the survey taken 2005-07. “Should one kid in five have fluorosis?”