If not having fluoride in their drinking water is an issue with Port Dover residents, Councillor John Wells says he hasn’t heard a thing about the topic.
The county provides water fluoridation to systems in the urban centres of Simcoe and Delhi/Courtland, but Port Dover, Waterford and Port Rowan do not have the chemical hydrofluosilicic acid (commonly referred to as fluoride) added to their drinking water.
Last November, Norfolk County staff was asked to bring back a report on fluoridation, with the ultimate questions being – – should the county provide fluoridated water to all or none.
After listening to arguments from the Health Unit staff, Haldimand and Norfolk Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Malcolm Lock, and three deputations for three hours last week, council decided to continue to provide fluoridated water to Simcoe, Delhi and Courtland. But ultimately, most councillors felt the wants of ‘Joe Public’ should be determined through a referendum on the 2010 municipal election ballot.
Decades ago it was believed that fluoridation of municipal water systems would help prevent tooth decay. But in recent years it has become a controversial topic, with some experts continuing to argue in support of fluoridation, and others claiming that it is not as affective as it was once believed and in fact, may be detrimental to public health.
Both sides are armed with the results of studies, documentation, and anecdotal testimony, which are being presented to elected officials who are given the task of deciding which side is most believable.
Norfolk County staff “endorses the continuation of Community Water fluoridation and would oppose any decision which would lead to its discontinuation”.
Specifically, in their report health officials zeroed in on such issues as the ethical, medical position of medicating people against their will, recommended dosages for children and adults, options for alternative delivery methods and related costs, the proven effects, both positive and negative, and the investigation of screening data of children in Norfolk County to determine if there were any differences in cases of tooth decay between those who have fluoride in their drinking water and those who don’t.
In regard to the latter, General Manager Patti Moore of Health & Social Services said the county health department does not have the resources to carry out such a project and the many variables involved, i.e. whether children were rural or urban, what their sources of drinking water were, how often they brushed their teeth, what the nutritional levels at home were, etc. would make it difficult to reach accurate conclusions.
Dr. Lock maintains the fluoridated water system is safe and cautioned councillors, “if the council decides to remove fluoride from the water, morally and ethically council should consider an alternative way of delivering fluoride. If (the county) doesn’t deliver, there is a social inequity because the poor do not have access to resources. The lower socially economic people in this county are the ones who are going to suffer. I believe those speaking against fluoridation are walking upstream against the weight of the evidence out there supporting fluoridation.”
Peter Van Caulart, of the Environmental Training Institute and Robert Fleming of ‘Waterloo Watch’, both argue against fluoridation, quoting studies and documentation from such sources as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act which classifies hydrofluosilicic acid as “persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic”.
Mr. Fleming stated, “we’ve been fluoridating for 63 years. Why hasn’t the Ministry of Health thrown science at our feet and said ‘ here it is. It works. Now let’s get on with other things’? You’re giving people something that hasn’t even been tested on animals. It is more toxic than lead and we don’t give our children lead.”
The toxicity of the chemical is also a concern for the Public Works Department whose staff must handle it. General Manager Eric D’Hondt of Public Works & Environmental Services told councillors there are extensive protocols in place to make sure all precautions are taken. “Anyone handling it has to have regular urine tests done to make sure they are not being affected. We have had several incidences where individuals have been tested at elevated levels and have had to remove themselves from exposure. At this time it is designated as a hazardous material.”
He also noted that current plants in Waterford, Port Rowan and Port Dover would not be able to accommodate additional equipment needed for fluoridation and expanding existing facilities would involve significant capital cost.
Twenty-five years ago former municipalities now amalgamated as Norfolk County made individual decisions on whether or not to fluoridate the water. Councillor John Wells pointed out, “the City of Nanticoke voted against it. I can truthfully say that I haven’t heard from any of my constituents in Ward 6 who have said they are for or against fluoridation, and the people of Port Dover can be quite forceful when they have an opinion.”
Health Canada plans to release a report reviewing available evidence related to water fluoridation in 2009/10.