Hamilton downtown councillor Bob Bratina wants the city to halt pouring fluoride into the city’s drinking water.

“The benefits are nebulous,” he said. “I’ve heard no evidence to support this.”

Hamilton’s Board of Health determined this week to examine alternative options to provide fluoride to residents; provide a cost estimate of creating a new fluoride program; and review the data on the pros and cons of continuing dumping fluoride into the city’s drinking water, which has been done since 1966.

But a number of members of the board were leaning toward removing fluoride from the city’s water system. It would save about $600,000 per year in maintenance and operation costs, said Jim Harnum, senior director of the city’s water and wastewater system. But it would mean applying to the provincial Environment Ministry to get the city’s certificate of approval changed, a process that could take from six months to a year.

Yet the conflicting information provided to the Board of Health from opponents of fluoridation, and the city’s public health officials, who support continuing the process conflicted.

“I have concerns with fluoride in the water,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark.

Added Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead: “We need to have the best information available. Is it proper to take the broad-brush approach?”

He said a report detailing the financial implication of removing fluoride and establishing alternative strategies needed to be done first. In addition, the public must be consulted before politicians made a decision, he said.

Opponents of fluoride in the water argue it provides minimal benefits, while over-exposing people to fluoride, possibly up to five times, creating further health issues for people, including diabetics, kidney dialysis patients, infants, and the elderly.

Too much fluoride creates dental fluorosis, or white spots on the teeth, Peter Van Caulart, director of training for the Environmental Training Institute, told members of the Board of Health.

The main benefit of fluoride in the water supply, he said, is topical. If people want to use fluoride, there are ample supplies of it people can directly use, including toothpaste, beverages, and from dentists, he said.

Mr. Van Caulart said it’s time for Hamilton to begin a targeted application of fluoride to children and people who have a difficult time accessing fluoride except through the water system.

Studies have indicated about 25 per cent of children experience about 80 per cent of tooth decay. There has been a link established between children who live under the poverty line and tooth decay.

Mr. Van Caulart also pointed out that to dump fluoride into the water system also means pouring hydrofluorosilicic acid, and trace amounts of lead, arsenic, and cadmium, into the city’s drinking water.

“It’s needless infrastructure, needless expense,” he said.

Mr. Harnum was quick to defend Hamilton’s water system, saying it was “absolutely safe to drink.”

“(Hamilton’s water system) is one of the safest systems in Ontario, if not in Canada,” he said. “No chemicals are added of a detrimental nature.”

Abdul Khan, director of water and waster, said there are tiny amounts of arsenic and lead in the water system.

“We would have more of that (amount) in the air,” he said.

Hamilton maintains a fluoride level of between 0.5 to 0.8 parts per million in the city’s water supply. In addition, since Hamilton takes its drinking water from Lake Ontario, the naturally occurring fluoride is about 0.15 parts per million.

Dr. Peter Wiebe, manager of the city’s dental programs, said there is no evidence to indicate a direct link between fluoride and any other disease, including cancer.

“There is no good scientific evidence linking (fluoride) to other issues, such as kidney and cancer,” he said.

He defended the use of fluoride in the water system, arguing that to begin targeting programs, even though they might be more effective, will be highly expensive.

“Targeted treatment is always more expensive,” he said.

Hamilton began putting fluoride into its water in 1966 after holding a referendum. In Ontario, about 70 per cent of the population, or about 8.7 million people drink fluoridated water. Worldwide, about 405 million people drink tap water with fluoride. Fluoridation has been supported by the Canadian Dental Association, and the Canadian Medical Association. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta considers fluoridation of water “one of the greatest achievements in public health in the 20th century.”

But the argument to remove fluoride has picked up steam over the last few years with organizations pressuring municipalities to remove it from city drinking water.

Last year, the Middlesex-London Board of Health approved a motion to evaluate the data on fluoridation, and to urge the provincial government to create a provincial fluoridation office.

Earlier this year, Welland and Thorold residents opposed any regional plan to restore fluoride into their drinking water after it was discontinued because of corroding water pipes. St. Catharines and Niagara Falls do not have fluoride in their drinking water.