Like a toothache that keeps erupting, the debate over adding fluoride to the local water supply has returned to Sarnia city hall.
Coun. Mike Kelch unexpectedly brought the issue up at the end of Monday’s council meeting, setting the stage for renewed public discussion.
“A lot has changed in the world since someone thought fluoride was a good thing to stick in drinking water,” Kelch said. “We are now trying to reduce the chemical burden on people.”
He said the “jury is out” on whether fluoridated water is harmful. But people these days are more conscious of what goes in their bodies than they were when fluoride was first added to Sarnia’s drinking water to fight tooth decay in the 1960s.
Local residents should now be given the right to determine if they want to consume it or not, he said.
Kelch began by making a motion for city council to direct the Lambton Area Water Supply System (LAWSS) to stop fluoridating local drinking water.
If council had voted on it Monday, there would have been no chance for public input.
Kelch agreed it was unusual to make such a significant motion without giving any notice but said he was taken off guard himself by a staff report in Monday’s council package that he received only four days prior.
That report said the LAWSS board wants to hear from its six member municipalities about adding fluoride before it commits to replacing its aging $300,000 fluoride system.
Coun. Jon McEachran, the city’s rep at LAWSS, said he wants to find out if local residents are in favour of fluoridation before spending the money.
McEachran voted against fluoridating water last time the question came to council in 2010.
“I’m still against it,” he said Monday. “I think we should err on the side of caution. It’s a dangerous chemical and there are a lot of unknowns. I suspect that one day we’ll see it wasn’t wise to add it.”
Kelch, who was absent for the 2010 vote that ended in a tie, said he isn’t in favour of fluoridated water either.
“Let’s provide the purest water available with the least amount of chemical added. How about that?” he said.
Mayor Mike Bradley has advocated for fluoride in the past.
He grew up in a community without fluoride in the water and has said he regrets that as an adult.
Bradley cautioned council about taking action on Kelch’s motion without any public debate.
“It’s unfair to have no discussion,” he said.
Adding fluoride to local water produced heated debate in the 60s and ultimately resulted in a plebiscite to allow Sarnians to vote on it.
Bradley said a plebiscite should be held again at the next election to see what the majority wants now.
Kelch agreed to table his motion and wait for a staff report to answer questions and possibly hold a public meeting.
“I recognize I didn’t provide notice. It’s a bit like dropping the bomb,” he said. “…I could have unleashed a thunderdome here.”
LAWSS provides drinking water to Sarnia, Point Edward, St.Clair Township, Plympton-Wyoming, Lambton Shores and Warwick Township.
In 2010, the LAWSS board relied on a weighted voting system since Sarnia consumes 70% of the water. If the weighted system is used again, Sarnia will have five votes, St. Clair two and the rest of the communities one each.
St. Clair Township’s council recently voted against fluoride use.