The debate continues, with no end in sight.
A number of familiar faces filled town council chambers Tuesday night reiterating the same stances – either for or against fluoridation – with one resident calling for a referendum.
North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit medical officer Dr. Jim Chirico returned to council with dentists, thanking council for its June 2 decision to keep its water fluoridated and urged them not to listen to those touting only negative studies and basing their opinions on fear, not, he said, legitimate science.
“When you voted in favour of continuing fluoridation, it showed leadership and courage in the face of a vocal minority,” Chirico said. “You spoke up for those who do not have a voice, or a choice, you backed the most vulnerable in society – the poor, the children, and the elderly – those who do not have the same advantages as you and I. You chose to invest in prevention rather than pain and suffering and costly treatments that would be passed on to those who are least able to afford it. You showed compassion for those who are less fortunate. You made the right choice, supported by the best scientific evidence we have to date.”
Growing up, Chirico said he and his siblings didn’t have fluoridated water, didn’t brush as often, and suffered the “pain and shame” associated with having cavities.
“The anti-fluoridations will give examples of countries that don’t fluoridate their drinking water supplies, what they don’t tell you is it’s not because of safety concerns and they won’t tell you that over 60 countries and over 400 million people do have fluoridated water,” Chirico said.
Closer to home, Chirico said Orillia has never fluoridated their water and their elementary school children have the most severely decayed teeth among the 10 largest communities in Simcoe-Muskoka.
“The anti-fluoridations presented their usual arguments based on unfounded fear, appealing to people’s emotions, but not based on legitimate science. When you only select negative studies, the outcome can only be negative. They do this to try and prove a point. Their mind is made up before they start. This is scientific bias at its worst,” he said. “By taking this approach, they simply choose to ignore huge amounts of data and valid systematic studies. This kind of approach should never be used to inform decision-makers. When systematic reviews of both positive and negative studies are analyzed, they have repeatedly concluded fluoridation is safe and effective in children and adults.”
Moreover, Chirico said there is no substantial evidence to support the link between fluoride in drinking water and a number of ill effects including lower intelligence, bone fractures, bone fluorosis, reproductive toxicity and genetic toxicity.
While moderate and severe fluorosis does occur, the Canadian Health Measures Survey oral health statistics from 2007 to 2009 concluded that so few Canadian children have moderate to severe fluorosis that even combined, the prevalence was too low to permit recording.
“This finding provides validation that dental fluorosis remains an issue of low concern in this country,” he said.
“The benefits of adding chlorine or fluoride to our drinking water far outweigh the extremely low risk of adverse affects, because chlorination and fluoridation processes are carefully monitored and controlled to ensure they are safe.”
Although not challenging Chirico’s credibility, Coun. Doug McCann said the issue is a difficult one for many to weigh in on. He asked what scientific proof the doctor could provide that the accumulation of fluoride inside the body is harmless.
“I think that people need to understand it’s very difficult to really get a grasp of all the information that people download off the internet; they look at it, they see it and they think that it’s fact,” Chirico said. “That’s why you really have to have a panel of experts who are really knowledgeable about what they’re reading. I can tell you it’s no simple task. You have to have that expertise to look through all that literature and to intelligently figure out what the logic is, if these studies are well designed or not. I feel (those against fluoridation are) very well intentioned…but I think it’s a very dangerous thing to be able to pull things off the internet and feel that you’re qualified to be able to interpret it. It even takes panels of experts to be able to do that.”
Resident Andrea McIntyre, representing the group Parry Sounders for Progressive Water Management, said surely the town could implement some kind of program that would satisfy both sides of the spectrum.
“Remove the fluoride and do a fluoride varnishing program for the disenfranchised – the people who really are in need. We have a local dentist in the area who has volunteered himself and an assistant to implement a varnishing program if social services wouldn’t do it,” McIntyre said. “There would be initial outlay for equipment and ongoing disposable, but it would be less expensive than adding fluoride to the water system and would probably be more effective, since it would be topical. The rest of the money saved could go towards toothbrushes and toothpaste for them.”
In the end, McIntyre asked, if council chooses to keep its water fluoridated, how could the town compensate those residents who don’t want the chemical in their water.
“You’ll be forcing us to either buy water that has no fluoride in it or get a filter system installed in our homes to remove it. Is council willing to give us a tax credit, or buy the filter system for us or give us a reduced water bill?” she said.
Resident Joe Moloney called for the town to remove fluoride from its water.
“Environment Canada classifies (fluoride) as a hazardous waste,” Moloney said.
“Transport Canada classifies (fluoride) as a dangerous good…you as council were honoured (at the last meeting) to have an independent researcher, Dr. Hardy Limeback, who has done peer-reviewed papers on the chemical’s long-term effects. He spoke specifically to the dangers to children – young children especially – the sick, the vulnerable in our community. He had nothing to gain and he actually put his career on the line by daring to speak the truth against powerful trade industries and organizations such as the Canadian Dental Association.
“We are vocal because we have a legal right to free speech. We aren’t overly radical, but maybe it’s time we should be. I assure you, we are not the minority. Lastly I would not claim to have any knowledge of what goes on in the business motives of industry unions or associations but their persistence in wanting a toxic waste dumped in public drinking water is to this simple man a rather perplexing and rather radical situation.”
This ongoing debate, said resident Jo Bossart, reminded him of those for and against vaccinations; some believing that vaccinations caused autism.
“I think it was proven to be discredited,” said Bossart, who has a PhD from the College of Pharmacy of Ohio State. “It turns out there were a couple studies that weren’t well done. It turned out that there maybe was a little motivation to do that. Once again you need to look at the body of evidence. As Dr. Chiricio said, it’s the body of evidence that’s important. From a professional standpoint, I don’t want to hear about toxic chemicals – all pharmaceuticals are toxic when taken out of their prescribed range. People willingly put toxic products into their bodies. I think in this case we’ve shown it’s not a particularly toxic – if at all toxic – when taken at those doses and it benefits a large population. I would support continuing to do the fluoridation.”
Bossart said those who are concerned with drinking fluoridated water could go out and buy water. Marine and freshwater biologist Kana Upton said the town needs to consider how fluoride not only affects people, but fish in Georgian Bay.
“At what point do the risks outweigh the benefits? I think those scales tipped – a long time ago. As a fish biologist, I began to do research into how (fluoridation) is going to affect the water systems and further my education in this. We have .7 parts per million to our water. Anything above .2 (parts per million) causes severe affects to fish. It can be lethal to many species,” Upton said. “It affects migration. Communities in British Columbia have done studies where they’ve tried to reduce the amount in their affluent water flow and they’ve seen huge numbers of salmon and different fish returning to spawning – not just returning, but larger numbers surviving. Fluoride is filtered through their gills, it accumulated in invertebrates, in aquatic plants, it’s something that we need to consider. Not only the health of us, but Georgian Bay as well. We’re dumping this all into The Bay, through our showers, through watering our lawns, through washing our dishes – only a small percentage is actually filtered through our bodies. The rest of it is going back into the Bay.”
On June 2, council defeated a recommendation put forward by staff for the removal of fluoride from its drinking water.
The recommendation came due to the hazards associated with its distribution.
Staff said if the town chooses to keep its water fluoridated, it needed to consider upgrades to its storage and dispensing procedures for the health and safety of its staff.
On September 1, Peter Brown, town director of public works, brought a report to council outlining the necessary $250,000 upgrades to the Tony Agnello Water Treatment Plant.
The improvements would ensure staff safety while dispensing fluoride into the water system.
Council approved the costly enhancements.
Engineering work has begun on the plant and will take a few months to complete, Brown said Wednesday afternoon.
One of the ways that the resolution regarding the water treatment plant’s upgrades, needed for the continued distribution of fluoride, 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.