People in a small Northern Ontario community have voted overwhelmingly to stop adding fluoride to the town’s drinking water due to health concerns.
Residents of Cobalt, a community of 1,250 people 135 kilometres northwest of North Bay, voted last Tuesday against fluoridation. The practice was rejected by 140 of the 159 people who cast a ballot.
“This was a public health issue. We were more concerned with the health of the people from the town of Cobalt,” Councillor Victor Legault said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“The amount of money the town is saving is very minute, around $3,700 a year.”
Water fluoridation was first implemented in Cobalt in 1991 and narrowly survived a 1997 referendum.
Legault initiated the latest vote more than six months ago when he started researching the health impact of adding fluoride to the town’s water.
“People I talked to during the campaign were shocked that fluoride was linked with some health risks,” said Legault, father of two boys.
In studies which received international attention in 1999, University of Toronto dental professor Dr. Hardy Limeback linked excessive fluoride intake to brittle teeth and bones.
But Peter Trainor, president of the 6,050-member Ontario Dental Association, points out that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have listed water fluoridation as one of the 10 greatest public health milestones in the 20th century.
Furthermore, he said, fluoride has been proven effective in preventing dental decay by reinforcing tooth enamel.
Water fluoridation has been implemented in most North American municipalities, including Toronto, where it was introduced in 1963.
Health Canada has concluded that drinking water with optimal levels of fluoride is safe if people do not get much fluoride from other sources. Fluoride is also found in many foods, toothpaste, mouthwash, cereals, and juices.
Last year, health officials recommended municipalities have between 0.5 and 0.8 parts per million of fluoride in their water supplies.
John Steele, a spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of the Environment, said the decision to add fluoride to water is left to local government.
“There is nothing to require the local municipalities to put fluoride into their water,” he said, adding that the number of municipalities who do is unknown.