Cranberry Portage has stopped adding fluoride to its drinking water while Flin Flon continues to adjust its levels to stay in the middle of the recommended range.

Coun. Larry Johnson of Cranberry Portage said three factors contributed to the decision, which took effect January 1.

He said testing had been showing the town’s drinking water a fluoride content above the recommended level.

Coun. Johnson said the town was also having difficulty finding both fluoride and the chemicals needed to test fluoride levels in the water.

“If the stuff was readily available where we could go pick it up in Flin Flon, fine, but we have to order this stuff out of Ontario, Winnipeg – wherever we can get it,” he said.

The third factor, Coun. Johnson said, is the health concern some people have with inorganic fluoride being pumped into their drinking water.

“There’s lots of pros and cons to it; it just depends who you talk to,” he said.

The decision is not necessarily permanent and may hinge on accessibility to the proper water-testing chemicals, Coun. Johnson said.

He stressed neither Ottawa nor the provincial government mandate fluoridation.

Cranberry Portage is hardly the only community in the region to go free of inorganic fluoride. As of 2008, Thompson, Snow Lake, Creighton and Denare Beach also fell into that category.

The move comes a year after a fluoridation debate gripped Cranberry Portage. It began when Coun. Conrad Ziehlke began speaking out against the practice, pointing to research alleged to show its possible harms.

Health concerns aside, Coun. Ziehlke said at the time that fluoridation doesn’t even accomplish its intended purpose, as studies have shown no difference in cavity rates among children who drink fluoridated water and those who do not.

“Getting it to them by water doesn’t do any good,” he said.

“If you want kids to have fluorides, then toothpaste is the best way to do it as long as you make the kids understand (that they need to) spit it out.”

Meanwhile, following its own fluoridation debate last year, the City of Flin Flon continues to inject the compound into the water supply.

Municipal Administrator Mark Kolt said the goal is to keep fluoride levels at 1.0 parts per million (ppm), right in the middle of the range recommended by Manitoba Health and other agencies, 0.8 to 1.2 ppm.

Since levels of natural fluoride in the water fluctuate, Kolt said the city can either increase or decrease its dosage based on weekly testing results.

In an interview last year, Dr. Marcia Anderson, then the Medical Officer of Health for the NOR-MAN Regional Health Authority, recommended both Flin Flon and Cranberry Portage continue fluoridation.

She said the drinking water in both communities lacks enough natural fluoride to meet the recommend level of 0.8 to 1.2 ppm.

Dr. Anderson said it’s true there are more fluoride sources today than there were decades ago, including toothpaste and mouthwash, but that’s not enough to sway her opinion.

Creighton ended fluoridation years ago in light of the natural fluoride levels in its drinking water, drawn from Douglas Lake, and the amount of fluoride people get from their toothpaste.

Snow Lake has been fluoride-free for about three years. In an interview last year, Mayor Garry Zamzow said health concerns played a role in the decision, as did the fact that there are other routes on the path to improved dental health.

Nevertheless, about 95 per cent of the provincial population drinks fluoridated water, according to Manitoba Health.

It’s an initiative supported by many reputable bodies, including the Canadian Public Health Association and the Canadian Medical Association.

The biggest health organization of them all, the World Health Organization, concurs.

“The consensus among dental experts is that fluoridation is the single most important intervention to reduce dental caries (decay), not least because water is an essential part of the diet for everyone in the community, regardless of their motivation to maintain oral hygiene or their willingness to attend or pay for dental treatment,” reads a statement on the WHO website.

The Saskatchewan government website catalogues the positives it sees in fluoridation, including a 40-60 per cent reduction in dental decay in people of all ages, and six times as many children free of dental decay.

While fluoridation is often seen as a measure aimed at children, the Saskatchewan site says it benefits everyone.

“Several studies show that people in their 60s who have lived all of their lives in areas with sufficient fluoride in drinking water have 40 to 60 percent less dental decay (the same degree of protection as children),” reads the site.

A common concern among opponents is an alleged link between fluoridation and cancer, particularly osteosarcoma, an extremely rare bone cancer, in males younger than 19.

But “(o)n the basis of current evidence, it appears unlikely that water fluoridation increases the risk of osteosarcoma in humans,” according to the Canadian Cancer Society, which is keeping an eye on emerging research.

Still, fluoridation opponents all over the world are holding firm. Among their leaders is award-winning investigative journalist Christopher Bryson, author of The Fluoride Deception.

In an interview posted online, Bryson says fluoride is a cancer-causing agent and details research indicating even “very modest doses” of the compound may impact children’s IQs.

The journalist says the implication of his years-long investigation “is that something is terribly, terribly wrong and we have been led very far astray and it is time to change.”

Bryson alleges professionals who have spoken out against fluoridation have been fired, and suggests people question the public establishment on fluoridation.

Other opponents, such as the Fluoride Action Network, imply fluoridation is a factor behind dental fluorosis, a condition in which too much fluoride has been ingested.

The Network says fluoride, even at low concentrations, inhibits numerous enzymes and that the various countries that have ended fluoridation have done so for good reason.

Many major countries, including Japan, Finland, Sweden and Czechoslovakia, have ended fluoridation.