Since 1958 Lake Cowichan has had fluoride added to their drinking water.
That will stop as soon as January.
A Nov. 19 referendum means Lake Cowichan will become the final Vancouver Island community to step away from fluoridation.
A resounding 335-147 vote made it clear a majority of town’s residents were opposed to fluoridation.
“These numbers are a true reflection of the public’s wishes,” said Mayor Ross Forrest.
Forrest himself didn’t even know which way he was going to vote until it came down to the wire.
“I was torn, I honestly didn’t know which way to vote,” said Forrest.
Ultimately he voted to discontinue the practice which costs the town roughly $11,000 annually.He said that money will now be at the disposal of public works, which will likely use it to improve water quality in other ways.
“We are wasting roughly 97 per cent of (the flouride),” said Forrest. Only one per cent or two per cent is actually drinking water or for brushing your teeth. The rest of it is watering our lawns, flushing our toilets — it just doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. Paul Hasselback’s pre-vote lobbying on the various benefits fluoridation can have did not sway the vote. Hasselback focused on dental hygiene as the primary reasons to keep it.
Town councillors said they had been weary of all the dental associations promoting the use of fluoride but when Hasselback, a local professional and medical health officer vouched for fluoridation, they anticipated the referendum to be much closer.
“Fluoridation of a community’s drinking water is a proven and effective measure to prevent tooth decay for all children and adults in the community,” said Hasselback. “Water Fluoridation is acknowledged across the world as one of the greatest public health achievements, and research had consistently shows the safety and effectiveness of flouroides in the prevention of tooth decay.”
Councillor Tim McGonigle was on the flip-side of the argument and supported the movement to rid Lake Cowichan of fluoride.
“I’ve been adamant of this right from the start,” he said.
“Prior to fluoride being implemented into the water system, fluoride was a good product because there were no other options. Now there’s fluoride in toothpaste and there’s fluoride within your diet. I think you have to take into consideration your total intake of fluoride. If you read your toothpaste label it says ‘do not swallow.’ Fluoride should be applied topically, not ingested,” McGonigle added.
Many opposed fluoridation because they were scared of potential side effects.
Once the fluoride issue came to the public spotlight, the term “medicated water” surfaced. Town Council agreed that once the term, “medicate” was associated with the fluoridation practice, its popularity began to spiral.
“It scares people away from it,” said town councillor Bob Day. “The word ‘medicating the public’ or ‘medication’ was used and that’s a good term because that’s what we’re doing but right away you scare people into voting against it.”
Lake Cowichan resident, Laurie Johnson was one of the 147 individuals that voted to keep the fluoridation of water.
“I can’t believe they let a cashier, a truck driver, a homemaker or a baker decide what is best for us. It should be professionals,” she said. “I understand it has to happen because it got voted in by referendum but I can’t believe we as normal people get to decide something that the medical profession should decide.
According to the Health Action Network Society there are now just six communities left in B.C. who continue to use fluoridation, including Prince George, Fort St. John, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Sparwood and Cranbrook.
It is still used by 40 per cent of Canada.