THOROLD – Late last night Niagara Region brushed away a motion to have fluoride regionwide.

At the committee of the whole meeting, which started at 6:30 p.m. with 13 presentations from individuals and associations either for or against fluoride, council decided after nearly five hours not to go ahead with the controversial move.

However, there is still a possibility that Welland and those areas serviced by the local water treatment facility will once again be fluoridated if regional Coun. George Marshall can get the support of council at the next committee of the whole meeting.

Last night, council was told that, to get the regionwide distribution of fluoride, it would cost $3 million in capital and some $600,000 in annual operating costs.

While supporters of fluoride felt the health benefits would far outweigh the initial costs, some like Mayor Damian Goulbourne said he couldn’t justify taxpayers’ dollars being used for the program.

He said plans for a separate system for Welland at anywhere from $10 to $17 million had “no value” and that he was “struggling” with the second option of regionwide fluoride at $600,000 annual operating costs.

“In no way can I argue the science,” said Goulbourne, but he did feel the annual operating costs would be better spent on targeted programs and public health. “I understand the passion … but I’m here focused on the best way to spend these tax dollars.”

Goulbourne used Welland’s own innovative program as an example of how collaboration can ensure children are getting the care they need.

There is a partnership between the United Way, Niagara College’s dental hygienist program and students of Empire School, Mathews School and Princess Elizabeth, where last year some 40 children received free care at the college. The city provided the transportation.

“It was one of the most emotional days these Niagara College students had … these kids had never seen a dentist,” said Goulbourne, who added the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council recently put together packages for 800 local students which included toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Medical officer of health Dr. Robin Williams said while Welland’s program helped 40 children, there are 100,000 to reach. Fluoride in the water distribution system is a better way to reach the masses, including adults and seniors.

As well, public health has seen a lack of participation in alternative dental programs.

Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn said he was willing to support public health in the move to get fluoride into the water distribution system because it is a cost-effective way to reach so many people. It’s a move Pelham’s Regional Coun. Brian Baty also supported.

“When you play sports, they say to keep your eye on the ball,” said Augustyn, who said in this case, preventing tooth decay is the ball and he supports regionwide fluoride because the alternatives just don’t cut it.

For Welland Regional Coun. Cindy Forster, there was no doubt in her mind whether to support fluoridated water.

“I’ve lived in Welland my whole life,” said Forster, adding that for most of her life she has consumed fluoridated water. “I’m alive, well and lived to tell the story. Not once have I come across anyone who expressed a negative effect from fluoridation.”

Forster said she was unwilling to rely on charitable donations, like the program the mayor referred to, in order to tackle the problem. “And $600,000 doesn’t go very far when you’re using it to go to the dentist,” said Forster.

Historically, Welland did have fluoride in its water system, then Pelham and one part of Thorold were added to services from the local plant. However, the fluoridation was discontinued and the cities weren’t notified until 2006, years after the service had stopped.

It’s for that reason Marshall plans to continue to fight for fluoride in Welland. He intends to bring his motion forward at the next meeting to have Welland’s water treatment facility repaired for fluoridation. Marshall said it was “regrettable” that councillors didn’t see the benefit in favouring fluoride for the region.

The regional public works department has concerns with providing fluoridation to communities serviced by the Welland facility because it will put a wrench in plans to connect the major water lines between communities. The Region expects to connect Welland to Niagara Falls within three to five years.

Marshall’s notice to have Welland back online with fluoridation will be on the next committee of the whole agenda.