New Tecumseth councillors voted 6-4 in committee last night to end a 40 year practice of adding fluoride to Tottenham’s drinking water supply following a spirited debate that lasted nearly two hours and involved pleas from the County’s medical officer of health, and the local dentist who championed the cause back in 1973.
Ward 8 councillor Jim Stone, whose key objective as a member of council over the years has been to eliminate fluoride from the treatment process, is now 2-0 at the committee level, winning a similar vote in March 2009, only to lose it a month later after eight representatives of various medical stripes descended on the town to change council’s mind.
Pitching to keep fluoride in the water last night were Tottenham dentist Gerry Ross; Dr Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka’s Medical Officer of Health, and Dr Dick Ito, the health unit’s dental consultant.
Dr. Ross said he’s been a dentist in Tottenham for 43 years and treats kids from Tottenham, Alliston, and Beeton, and “I can almost tell you by seven or eight years of age, where those kids come from.”
He said there’s a difference of four to six cavities in the baby teeth of children from Alliston, compared to Tottenham, and he says fluoride in the water is the difference.
“I feel all the things I’ve done in dentistry this is by far my greatest accomplishment was doing this for the children of Tottenham,” said Dr. Ross of the role he played that helped sway 83 per cent of voters to accept fluoride in their water supply.
Councillor Stone asked whether he was aware at the time about where fluoride came from, and Dr Ross said he consulted with the Canadian Dental Association, Ontario Dental Association, and “they provided me with experts and all the literature was out there, and I brought that knowledge to the council and let the council make that decision. Where it came from is really meaningless. What we’re talking about is a chemical, what is put in the water, is a very safe chemical if put in properly with proper recommendations.”
“I remember back then,” replied Mr. Stone, “my feeling was I didn’t think the people of Tottenham had a clue where this stuff came from. They were just told it’s fluoride.”
“It was voted 83 per cent in favour,” countered Dr. Ross. “It was open to anybody else to oppose me.”
Councillor Stone added “there’s only two people who’ve ever complained to me about trying to take the fluoride out, and that was you and Joan Sutherland.”
“My passion is this,” said Dr. Ross, “this has been my gift to Tottenham. If I have a legacy, I’m proud to be the man who brought fluoride into Tottenham. I can’t think of a better legacy I can leave as a dentist.”
Dr. Gardner was next, armed with a power point presentation that showed screening results from the schools in New Tecumseth pointing to lower levels of tooth decay in Tottenham children than the rest of town.
“Fluoridation is a contentious issue, probably the most contentious issue I face in public health,” he said, “so our goal as a health unit is to provide helpful accurate information.” He noted fluoride is added in “exceedingly low concentrations” of 0.7 parts per million.
In his three page report to council outlining the flaws of fluoride, Councillor Stone termed it an “industrial waste product” “derived from scrubbing chimneys of phosphate fertilizer plants and contains arsenic, lead, mercury, cadnium, barium and radium.”
He pointed to studies done at Harvard, and Berkley California University, and the US Public Health Service, also quoted from the Canadian Pediatric Society warning against giving fluoride to young children, and the dangers posed by side affects.
Councillor Stone took exception to suggestions from doctors Gardner and Ito that studies showing harmful effects caused by fluoride were not entirely credible.
In reply to Ward 6 councillor Richard Norcross’s questions about conclusions in various studies cited by councillor Stone, Dr. Gardner suggested, “those are not actually studies, those are statements. You’d have to go back to the studies themselves and consider them in light of the quality.”
“You can’t say that these studies that I show are not quality studies. There’s a study from the National Toxicology program in the U.S Public Health service. Doctors said fluoride caused 10,000 deaths in California. Three years of study about cancer. United States Food and Drug Administration never approved fluoride. Never. The American Dental Association said don’t give fluoride to young children. Never,” said Councillor Stone. “These studies were done by professional people that have the same education as you people that made presentations tonight. This is dangerous. Why err on the side of something you don’t know? This stuff is dangerous. I’m quoting them. It’s doing a lot of harm.”
It’s a track that other councillors tended to agree with. Ward 1 councillor Bob Marrs moved an amendment which ultimately passed to suspend fluoridation “until such time that it can be proven that fluoride does not cause unrelated health issues.”
Ward 4 councillor Fran Sainsbury said there is more awareness today about chemicals that were used in agriculture, and today are banned because they were deemed to be dangerous to health. She also pointed to Walkerton and the shift to bottled and filtered water.
“Water is one common denominator you can’t live without it. People just want to know it’s safe, and I think they have the right to make their own choice,” said Ms. Sainsbury. “The World Health Organization has said fluoride is a drug so I guess you’re medicating the water. It may be good for your teeth, but if it’s all going into your stomach, you don’t have a lot of teeth in your stomach. It isn’t going to stay there very long, so I think we should err on the side of caution and I don’t think we should just have one small town out of all of Simcoe County that still has it in the system. I think we just need a level playing field and then do studies.”
Deputy mayor Rick Milne asked if fluoride was so critical, why the other 15 municipalities in Simcoe County, and Barrie and Orillia, did not have it in their systems.
“It’s history that has led Tottenham to being fluoridated,” replied Dr. Gardner. “There is superiour oral health status in that community. If in fact it is removed, we will continue our surveillance. I feel confident over the years we will see the loss of that benefit that will be documented, that will be recorded. I’m giving you advice as your medical officer of health, not to do this.”
Ward 2 councillor Jamie Smith said he was not convinced that fluoride is dangerous in the context being debated.
“Certainly no convincing evidence. I’m not in a position to judge the quality of these studies,” said councillor Smith. “The only people who’ve spoken to us tonight who are in a position to do this are the medial officer of health and Dr Ito and Dr Ross.”
He said the one aspect he went deeper to investigate is how fluoride was made.
“It’s an industrial byproduct, they make one product and it’s what’s leftover. It’s no more waste, that’s hyperbole to call it waste,” he said, “I really think those who are about to support these motions, have forgotten what they learned in high school, and how to do a critical examination of facts. There are very few citations here. I think we would be doing something that is unfair to the general population. Nobody on council is educated enough – and I’m not being nasty about that – has the right training to understand these studies, and the people that do, tell us that we should keep fluoridation there. We don’t ignore our lawyer, why should we ignore our doctor?
Mayor Mike MacEachern echoed the call to heed the medical advice. “We have our public health unit, our doctor that is in charge of public health telling us this is an important thing we’re doing in our community and he is advising us not to (remove) it. I think he has a responsibility to keep our community safe. I get a little concerned that people start to think that there’s other ramifications in regards to fluoride.”
“My colleagues take our duties very seriously, and we view the community, the population as the patient, our patient. Just like a family doctor would view someone as their patient, I view the community as my patient,” said Dr. Gardner. “I have a duty to be thorough in my understanding of the evidence on this topic…. I consider myself knowledgeable on this topic, so I would like to assure this council we consider very broadly all the health implications of everything we speak to including community water fluoridation.”
“I think you’ve proven to me it has a positive significant health impact,” said the mayor, “particularly the children in Tottenham and I’m not going to be a part of removing that.”
Councillors Marrs said he has seen the evidence on both sides, and appreciated that it reduces dental cavities.
“I don’t have a problem with that, my problem is the possible side affects. There’s a lot of information, credible sources, we’re sitting here and saying we’re going to continue to do this, when we do not absolutely know that this is creating other serious problems,” he said, pointing to the pesticide debate of a few years ago, whereby Health Canada had said they were safe, and “they’re banned now. I think it should be stopped.”
Dr. Gardner said because “you can never have an absolute certainty means you will forego many beneficial things. Insisting on that degree of certainty, simply in reality doesn’t exist. In my opinion you’d be doing a disservice to the children and all in that community.”
Councillor Norcross said the problem he was having on the matter was the fact “something is going into the water system that people don’t have a choice. People in Tottenham had a choice to put it in their water maybe we should give them the choice back where they can review the pros and cons make a decision to take it out of the water supply… “there’s something in the water people may not want.”
Councillor Haire suggested the town should have one water system “that is the best we can do, I don’t think having a separate one for Tottenham is the answer. ….. “either fluoride’s good for you, or it isn’t good for you. And it’s not just a matter of dental health, it’s a matter of all kinds of health, and what it does residually in the body.”
In conclusion before the vote was called, Councillor Stone said during the last election he campaigned to get fluoride out of the water, and he was elected.
“I find it a bit demeaning that we councillors are told we don’t know how to read, or form opinions because we don’t have letters. I find that a lot of highly educated people if they’re not up on something, then they’re down on it. I don’t think we should put them down because we aren’t doctors.”
Next week a draft bylaw will be presented to ask the province to amend the Certificate of Approval that would end fluoridation. It’s expected the debate will flare up again prior to the final vote.