Councillors may soon be poring over the issue of fluoridated water in a debate about whether the city should remove the chemical from its water.
A report on the issue was presented last week to the city’s finance committee.
Mayor Marianne Matichuk said its purpose was to provide information to councillors so they could make the most informed decision about whether or not to rid municipal water supplies of fluoride.
The report was prepared after receiving direction from city council for an “unbiased assessment of the use of fluoride in water” at the March 3 finance meeting.
The report, intended for information purposes, stated about 45 per cent of the Canadian population has access to fluoridated public water supplies.
Many people have come forward to voice their opinion on whether or not tap water should be fluoridated, but the decision is made by municipal governments.
The federal, provincial and territorial governments set the guidelines through the Fluoridation Act of 1990.
Sudbury has been fluoridating its water supply since 1952.
All water supplied to residents is fluoridated, including that processed through the Vermillion treatment plant. About 17 per cent of the city’s residents are not serviced by municipal water systems.
Adding fluoride to the water has “significant” financial implications for the city, according to the report. Fluoridating the water supply costs in the range of $95,000 to $115,000 per year.
Furthermore, several of the city’s water supply facilities do not meet current standards for fluoride rooms, and upgrades in the amount of about $2.2 million will be required to mitigate the “various risks of premature deterioration of exposed equipment,” according to the report.
“I have real reservations about putting $2.2 million into the system when we already have huge water rates,” Matichuk said. “It’s very costly to have fluoride in our system, but there is also potential risk factors to our employees who have to handle the chemical in its pure form. The amount that is in our water is very minute, but people need to take it upon themselves to be educated on fluoride.”
Sudbury’s systems feed fluoride in the range of 0.5 to 0.8 mg/L, which is within the legislated limits, and usually feed rates are maintained at the low end of this spectrum, as stated in the report.
There are two ways that council can decide to settle the debate, should they decide to do anything at all.
They can pose the question to residents through a plebiscite, and council will be bound to the results of that plebiscite, or council can vote on it, and a panel of experts would be invited to present to councillors for a fuller understanding of the issues.
“It needs to be a matter of choice,” Matichuk said. “It’s time to discuss this. There are a lot of other communities that are talking about it, and there are a number of northern communities that don’t even have fluoride in their water. It needs to get out to the public and we need to let them decide what is the right thing to do.”
The Sudbury and District Health Unit’s board of health does support fluoridation of community water supplies as a good population health strategy, meaning that it provides benefit to every resident accessing the water system, regardless of income, age or where they live, Charlene Plexman, manager of dental health programs, said.
It’s a safe, effective and economical way of preventing tooth decay, she said.
Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba have the highest percentage of community water fluoridation, with rates of 76 per cent, 75 per cent and 70 per cent, respectively. British Columbia and the Territories have little or no municipalities with fluoridated water systems, the report stated.
Those communities that have opted to defluoridate their municipal drinking water supplies “are the minority,” Plexman said.
“Water fluoridation is a hot topic, but when you look at all the communities that have had this discussion, an overwhelming majority have kept fluoridation. There is only a handful that have decided to not fluoridate or hold a referendum, while the rest have elected for maintaining status quo.
Fluoridating water saves money for all residents in the long run, she added, because “for every dollar invested in water fluoridation, it saves about $38 in treatment costs, and that’s a pretty good investment.”
Currently available peer-viewed scientific studies “continue to indicate that there are no adverse health effects from exposure to fluoride in drinking water at or below the maximum acceptable concentration,” Health Canada stated in a news release in June about fluoride in drinking water.
Health Canada continues to “strongly” support water fluoridation as a safe, effective and cost-effective public health measure to help prevent dental cavities.
“The safety and efficacy of water fluoridation has been frequently studied and continues to be supported by current science, and the beneficial effects of fluoride in the prevention of dental cavities have been well documented in scientific literature.”
Matichuk said the report will be brought back to council, but she isn’t sure if it will be before or after budget is passed in January.
“There are quite a few councillors who are interested in at least debating the issue,” she said.