The fluoride question will not be on the ballot in this fall’s municipal election.
Simcoe Coun. Peter Black’s idea to let the public decide whether to continue putting the substance into the drinking water of Courtland, Delhi, and Simcoe came to halt Tuesday night when no one would second his motion.
Elected officials turned down the idea after hearing from staff, the county’s medical officer of health, and a representative of the local dental industry, all of whom were opposed to the idea.
Council heard that putting the question to the public would be complicated, time-consuming, and expensive.
It would require special ballots and a decision would have to be made on whether to include all Norfolk residents in the plebiscite or just those who live in the wards with fluoridated water.
Clerk Andrew Grozelle gave council four different ballot proposals to consider.
Grozelle noted that if a countywide vote favoured keeping fluoride “it could be taken to mean other areas want fluoridation.”
If the vote went ahead, he warned, “we would likely be conducting one of the most complicated elections in the province,” and any results could face legal challenges.
Simcoe dentist Ian Malo told council the Haldimand-Norfolk Dental Society as well as the provincial dental group favour fluoridation because it helps improve oral health, especially for people in lower income brackets.
“Those on the lowest end of the socio-economic status benefit the highest,” said Malo. “If it was reversed, they would feel the sting the most.”
He said the public’s ability to understand the issue is “widely insufficient” and called the Internet “a wild west” of information on fluoridation.
Dr. Malcolm Lock, the Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, said that removing fluoride would raise issues of “health fairness and iniquity.”
He suggested council “might wish to consider expanding the benefit (of fluoride) to the other communities” that don’t have it.
Patti Moore, general manager of the health and social services division Norfolk and Haldimand counties share, said in a written report that residents with low incomes “do not have the means to afford fluoride enriched toothpastes, toothbrushes or dental care. Those receiving Ontario Works benefits have limited access to dentists owing to funding caps for services.”
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have called fluoridation “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th Century,” Moore’s report noted.
“I didn’t anticipate how complicated this would be,” Black commented before asking his fellow councilors to consider letting everyone in Norfolk vote.
Council doesn’t need the results of a plebiscite to decided to discontinue fluoride or add it to the drinking water of other communities. It can make the decision on its own.
Another option, elected officials were told, would be to survey water users on their feelings through monthly water bills.