Norfolk council saved itself a lot of trouble two weeks ago when it sidestepped the issue of fluoridating municipal drinking water.
Simcoe Coun. Peter Black suggested putting the fluoridation question to voters in this fall’s municipal election.
On the face of it, that sounds reasonable. People who pay for municipal water should have a say as to what goes into it. People who drink it should have a say as to what they are putting in their bodies. But council wisely abandoned the referendum idea after staff outlined some of the complications it presents.
To begin with, Norfolk doesn’t even have a consistent policy on fluoridation. Municipal water in Courtland, Delhi and Simcoe is fluoridated while municipal water in Waterford, Port Dover, Port Rowan and St. Williams is not. This is a reminder that the new Norfolk once had a multitude of councils making decisions on our behalf. That fluoridation remains a hit-and-miss proposition 14 years after consolidation is also a reminder that politicians tend to avoid controversy wherever possible.
This lack of consistency is just the start. Rural residents with their own wells, for instance, don’t really have a stake in the issue. Should they have a say on fluoridation? If the answer is no, it would be a real headache on Oct. 27 ensuring that only municipal water users voted on it.
Then comes the difficulty interpreting the result. If the outcome were in favour of fluoridation, how do we say with certainty that municipal water users in Waterford, Port Dover, Port Rowan and St. Williams actually endorse a change to the status quo? Even if a vote were positive county-wide, it would be a leap to suggest that any of these communities were in favour of change. Forcing fluoridation on a community where a majority doesn’t want it defeats the purpose of asking their opinion in the first place.
The same applies if the outcome were negative. A county-wide vote against fluoridation wouldn’t necessarily mean Simcoe, Delhi and Courtland want the cavity-fighting mineral taken from their water. As we see, a county-wide vote on fluoridation would tell us very little.
Council did us a favour by leaving well enough alone. Fact is, there are no good answers when it comes to fluoridation.
On the one hand, the only thing coming out of our taps should be pure, unadulterated water. Inexpensive toothpastes are available for people who want the health benefits of fluoride. Government should not be in the business of medicating our water. Once they’ve added fluoride, what else will they want to put in?
Conversely, the victims of a fluoride-free water system are children. Youngsters deprived of fluoride due to poor parenting have a higher rate of tooth decay than children who get it in their drinking water. Arguably, neglecting to fortify our drinking water with fluoride is a sin of omission when it comes to the most vulnerable.
And so goes the conundrum of fluoridation, one that a scattershot referendum isn’t going to simplify for us.