MUSKOKA — Fluoride is staying in Muskoka’s drinking water, the district’s public works and engineering committee has decided.
The resolution in favour of keeping fluoridation was passed by a vote of 4-1 last Wednesday, with advice from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and the district’s engineering and public works department. The matter will now head to district council for final approval.
The controversy arose two weeks ago when Jim Bjork, a Huntsville resident, expressed concerns to district council that fluoride is a health hazard and that its addition to drinking water is illegal under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In a March 31 letter to the committee, Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health and CEO of the health unit, refuted claims that fluoride is harmful. He says adding fluoride to water improves public health, and compared it to the addition of vitamin D to milk or iodine to salt.
“People living in areas with (fluoridated water) have a rate of tooth decay that is 20 to 40 per cent lower than those who do not have this benefit,” he wrote. “The tooth decay rates in Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville, for example, are demonstrably lower compared to non-fluoridated towns in Simcoe County.”
He also pointed to 18 medical reviews done in various countries that found no evidence that fluoridated water is harmful.
Tony White, the district’s commissioner of engineering and public works, countered claims that fluoridation is illegal in a March 31 report to the committee.
Though the Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits the addition of hazardous substances to drinking water, White said fluoridation is OK under a following section of the act, because it counts as standard procedure for “the proper operation, maintenance, repair or alteration of a drinking water system.”
“It’s not my place to say whether fluoridation is a good thing or a bad thing,” he said. “All I can do is to tell you that I’m satisfied that if council wishes to fluoridate the water systems, their staff can do so in accordance with all the regulations and statutes that govern fluoridation.”
District chair John Klinck voted in favour of keeping fluoride in the district’s water supply. He said he made his decision with a combination of professional advice and personal experience.
“When it comes to something like fluoridation we’ve always relied on our partners in the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit to provide their input and recommendations,” he said. “I was subject to fluoridated water as a child growing up at a later date than my brothers and sisters … they had fewer cavities than I had.”
Having lived in a rural setting without access to fluoridated water from a municipal system, Klinck said he’s made a special effort to introduce fluoride to his children’s drinking water.
“We made a conscious decision to supplement their vitamin program with fluoride tablets,” he said.
District deputy chair and Bracebridge councillor Scott Young was undecided in the matter, but also voted in favour of keeping fluoride in the water based on expert advice.
“I decided to vote for the status quo simply because I’m not a health expert,” he said. “We invest public money into health experts that advise on such matters, and I think it makes sense to take their advice.”
Bjork said he was disappointed that the committee made a decision that was “definitely misinformed.” He hopes council will reconsider the committee’s decision when the minutes of the committee’s meeting are up for approval on April 26.
Describing fluoride in drinking water as “toxic waste,” he pointed to studies compiled by the Fluoride Action Network — a public awareness network that opposes water fluoridation.
“Each one says fluoride is a natural component on the environment — it’s on the periodic table,” he said. “Naturally occurring fluoride is called calcium fluoride. This is sodium fluoride (in the water) — it’s a different kettle of fish.”
Provincial Green party candidate Matt Richter says he wants more study and public deliberation on the effects of fluoridation before the additive is deemed safe. He also questioned whether Gardner’s statistics on regional tooth decay rates were solely the result of fluoridation or other factors.
“The public deserves an explanation on why almost all of Europe does not fluoridate, yet we do,” he said. “But the dental records … are in essence showing the same tooth decay rates whether we fluoridate or not.”
Drinking non-fluoridated water, he says, hasn’t worsened oral health in his household.
Although he’s already voted to keep fluoride in the district’s drinking water, Klinck says the personal preference of residents is something that should probably be given further consideration.
“Perhaps the real consideration that should be made here is an ethical element,” said Klinck. “Is it appropriate for us to effectively force feed our water users with a product that perhaps should be a matter of choice?”
According to White, fluoridation costs Muskoka about $43,200 each year, not counting the cost of labour and other expenses like protective clothing for staff.