Tuesday evening Parry Sound residents and some from surrounding municipalities filled town council chambers to capacity – and then some – to debate water fluoridation.
On June 2, council defeated a recommendation put forward by staff for the removal of fluoride from the town’s drinking water. The recommendation came due to the hazards associated with its distribution.
“This chemical is highly dangerous to work with,” wrote Peter Brown, town director of public works in his June 2 report. “Staff have to wear personal protective equipment each time the chemical is decanted. It has been shown to etch glass and degrade paint on walls in the plant. It is not a safe chemical. I believe the town may be placing the staff at risk when they are exposed to it.”
At that meeting there was only one deputation regarding Brown’s report and it came from North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit medical officer Dr. Jim Chirico who insisted the town keep the chemical in its water.
Brown said if the town chose to keep its water fluoridated, it needed to consider upgrading its storage and dispensing procedures for the health and safety of staff.
At its June 2 meeting, council defeated Brown’s recommendation, thereby keeping its water fluoridated.
At its September 1 meeting, Brown brought another report to council; this one outlining the necessary $250,000 upgrades to the Tony Agnello Water Treatment Plant. The upgrades would ensure staff is safe while dispensing the fluoride into the water system.
“The decision to continue fluoridation safely will be costly,” Brown wrote in his September 1 report to council. “The engineer has estimated the capital work to be in the range of $150,000. Engineering cost is estimated to be in the range of $50,000. Considering the amount of work required and time frames, I would estimate the cost of the entire work to be closer to $250,000. And to be quite frank, the Town of Parry Sound has no choice but to proceed with this plan.”
Council agreed and plans to spend the $250,000 for the upgrade.
Tuesday night, resident Andrea McIntyre, representing the group Parry Sounders for Progressive Water Management, spoke and asked those in attendance to stand if they were in support of the removal of fluoride; nearly all present, about 70 people, stood or raised their hands.
“We know that you (council) have the wellbeing of us in mind and have based your decisions on information that fluoride is beneficial, but our research indicates that fluoride in our water is not the benefit that we have been lead to believe and is doing us more harm than good,” McIntyre said. “We are also concerned about the financial costs of adding it.”
She said the cost of maintaining the addition of fluoride in the town’s water supply wouldn’t stop at the reconstruction of one room.
“One must also consider the cost of the chemical, continuing maintenance costs, the time the staff take to administer it, and regular replacement of safety equipment,” she said.
McIntyre outlined the costs associated with the upkeep, an estimated $614,700 over 20 years.
“The decay rates at present are so low, that you would have to fluoridate for 40 years to save one filling per person. If we consider only children, which are the ones who would benefit the most, there are about 1,000 children aged 4 to 20 in Parry Sound and Nobel…that would only be a reduction of 500 cavities over 20 years for a total cost of $60,000 at $120 per cavity. You will spend 12 times as much as what you’ll save,” she said.
McIntyre said the group doesn’t dispute that council believes it’s doing right by keeping fluoride, as is the general opinion of most people at present.
Veighey said council made the right decision when it choose to keep its water fluoridated and asked them not to give in to the recent “anti-fluoride mania that is championed by a select few. The only people who would benefit from the removal of fluoride from the water are the dentists, because we would be busier with the vast increase of dental decay. But the community will be much worse for it five or 10 years down the road.”
Wendy Cooper, resident and teacher, said her six-year-old’s recent blood work has shown to have high levels of arsenic and lead.
“Watching the presentation that our expert gave made me incredibly nauseous to think that we’re even considering continuing fluoridation in our water supply,” said an emotional Cooper. “You have a lot of community members with you here tonight who have shown up under short notice with not much coverage to show that this was going on and I think you’ve seen the amount of support you have and I’m sure if you need it we can get more support from fellow community members. Are you going to listen to those with a vested interest in earning or are you going to listen to your community members with a vested interest in our health and wellbeing? The amount of money that you would spend on fluoridating is clearly not worth it, it’s simple math. Look at the research from the experts in the field, please, I beg of you.”
Former Parry Sound councillor Conrad van der Valk commended council for making its original decision to keep fluoride based on information that was provided some months ago.
“Unfortunately you didn’t have the opportunity to hear the other side. You have tonight and it is your job as councillors to come up with a decision that works for a majority of the people,” van der Valk said. “I would suggest that you give the public the choice whether they want to have fluoridated water or not, instead of you taking the onus and responsibility. It is our body, we’re talking about my body, the bodies of the people here and they should have that choice.”
Dr. Lin Raimundo, with Parry Sound Family Dentistry, said if council chooses to remove fluoride, it needs to evaluate that decision and how it will ultimately affect those who are most vulnerable in the community.
“In my practice I see a lot of people who are on assistance programs and it’s wonderful if we all have insurance programs that paid for us (to visit a dentist) every six months; we don’t have that here,” Raimundo said. “We have a lot of people who rely on sign-up – which is for children and youth care – we have a lot of people on disability. These are the people I don’t want to have slip through the cracks. They are just as important to our community as a whole…if you’re going to take away the one, because of the right to choose what’s in your drinking water, you still have to provide those groups that need it, with a solution.
“One of the comments was, well people can just travel up north to get the treatment that is paid for…that’s not necessarily possible…a lot of these people don’t have a car and they don’t have money for gas and they don’t have money for rent, but we’re telling them, drive on up there. We could definitely use a dentist or hygienist who would focus on those groups in our town…and people can go to a centralized centre if they don’t have any kind of funding and they can get that attention that they need. How fabulous would that be?”
One of the ways that the resolution regarding the water treatment plant’s upgrades can be brought back for council to rescind, is for a council member on the prevailing side of the original vote to provide a Notice of Motion at a council meeting. Then the motion would come before council at the following meeting.