Over the objections of a vocal public gallery, a petition with 1,442 names, and some members of council, the Civic Works Committee is recommending continued fluoridation of London’s water.

During the committee’s meeting on Monday (April 23), members not only voted to support fluoridation, but also voted down the idea of having the public vote on the practice with a plebiscite during the 2014 municipal election. The recommendation put forward by city staff stemmed from a report that drew upon data provided by a variety of experts, such as Health Canada, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and the Medical Officer of Health for Middlesex-London Health Unit, all of which support ongoing fluoridation.

Committee chair and Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher was one member who firmly supported the staff recommendation, based not only on the information it contains, but also who prepared it.

“This report, from my perspective, did exactly what we asked for at the public participation meeting. Every single item I could think of was responded to,” Usher said. “We pay our staff to do a job. They have done all the gathering of the information, they have dug into the information, analyzed it, and this is the report they present to us. I trust the staff, they are the ones we hire to do the work.”

Ward 10 Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen also supported the recommendation based on the data compiled in the report. Van Meerbergen said because “no member of the committee, indeed the entire council, is a trained scientist or chemist,” councillors need to accept, “in good faith,” the information contained in the report.

In stating his position, Van Meerbergen referred to the staff report that states approximately 90 national and international organizations support fluoridation. He also pointed to a June 2011 Health Canada report that determined there was no link between the use of fluoride in drinking water — at the levels used by the City of London — and any adverse health effects.

“They (some 90 worldwide health organizations) are unanimously saying to continue fluoridation,” Van Meerbergen said. “And yet, somehow, someway, we as lay people are sitting here now saying we know better, let’s get rid of it. I just think that is wrong. I think that’s not good public policy.”

The committee narrowly voted to support the staff recommendation after defeating a motion put forward by Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser to have staff prepare a strategy for ending fluoridation as quickly as possible.

Prior to putting forward the motion, Orser countered the staff report a petition that he said he received only hours earlier. That petition, which contained 1,442 signatures, called for the immediate end to fluoridation.

“Just to err on the side of safety in my mind is worthwhile. The staff recommendation takes us down the path that has been here for 46 years,” Orser said. “When in doubt, get it out. And I want to get this out of the water.”

With the motion to end fluoridation defeated, and the recommendation by staff supported, Ward 14 Councillor Sandy White attempted to get the issue placed on the 2014 municipal ballot. White, who said she personally “can live without fluoride,” said she was not only getting calls from poverty groups asking that fluoridation be continued, but was also being lobbied by those standing against the practice.

As White said, “there is good and bad on both sides,” she concluded a plebiscite was the best course of action.

“Me personally, I don’t want to make the decision for the entire city. I think this should go to a plebiscite and let the city decide,” White said. “If people really don’t want this in their water, they will let us know. I don’t think any one side should decide for the other.”

Orser agreed with having the issue put to the 2014 ballot, adding the core issue for most people he has talked to is whether the city has the right to be forcing people to ingest fluoride against their wishes.

“That is the core issue here, people want to choose what they are medicated with, or not medicated with,” Orser said. “Science often finds out much too late that what was good today . . . whoops, we made a mistake. I think the fairest thing, if you are for or against fluoride, is to allow the people to decide. It is the right thing to do.”

Usher, who found himself on several occasions attempting to control an occasionally boisterous gallery of approximately 50 people squeezed into one of the city hall committee rooms, was again on the opposite side of the issue from Orser, this time around the plebiscite question.

“I do have a problem with it, “Usher said. “I respect the fact it is one of the fairer ways of going to the public, but a lot of people say we elected you . . . to make this decision.”

Although the committee supported the recommendation, the issue still has to be presented before the entire council at its May 1 meeting.