THOROLD — During the Cold War, as debate raged over whether to add fluoride to municipal drinking water supplies, there were people who believed it was all part of communist machinations to control people with chemicals under the guise of offering stronger teeth.
While no one seriously believes secret agents are out to seize control of our brains in Niagara, debate over the pros and cons of adding the tooth decay-prevention chemical to drinking water continues.
When the region assumed the responsibility for drinking water from Niagara’s municipalities back in 1970, it assumed control of a mishmash of water treatment plants in which Welland and parts of Thorold had fluoride added to drinking water while other Niagara cities and towns didn’t.
The region continued to operate the fluoridation systems in Thorold and Welland for years, but the corrosive nature of the chemical led to ongoing leaks and breakdowns in the water treatment systems. Regional figures show the destructive effect of fluoride on water systems meant the Welland water treatment plant was out of service 60 per cent of the time.
The region eventually stopped adding fluoride in Welland — and, by extension, to part of Fonthill because residents there get their water from the Welland water plant — in 1999, and Thorold in 2002. Over the last year and a half, regional staff looked at whether to re-start fluoridation in those water treatment plants. In a report to politicians last week, they recommended the idea be dropped for good, saying kids with developing teeth can get fluoride from various other sources these days: from toothpaste, from fluoridated beverages, infant formula, mouthwash, processed cereals and from dental treatments.
Regional staff said if the decision were made to re-introduce fluoridation in those municipalities, it would be problematic because water treated at some plants is pumped to different municipalities. It would require installation of such equipment as backflow prevention valves so fluoridated water does not end up going to cities such as St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, which in the past passed referendums against fluoridation.
Regional politicians were left scratching their heads over whether the issue was a public works issue or a public health issue. Dr. David Klooz, associate commissioner of public health for the region, said perhaps eight to 12 per cent of kids might see dental benefits from fluoridated water.
He said it comes down to a question of whether residents would consider the cost of re-introducing fluoride to some of those communities — which would cost an estimated $12 million to $17 million, depending on which scenario was chosen — was worth it.
“Is the public willing to spend $12 million? I can’t tell you.”
Politicians decided to refer it back to staff for a joint report coming from both public works and public heath officials before making any decisions.