An Owen Sound committee got an earful Monday night about the supposed benefits and dangers of continuing the city’s tradition of adding fluoride to its public water supply.
But Coun. Bill Twaddle, chairman of Owen Sound’s operations advisory committee, cautioned the roughly 70 people in attendance that city council lacks the power to simply pull the plug on the controversial practice.
“Council has no ability to make a unilateral decision,” he said during a public meeting on fluoridation at the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library.
Since Owen Sound electors voted in 1997 in support of maintaining the practice, Ontario law says another plebiscite is needed — with the opposite result — before it can end.
City council only has the power to force another referendum to coincide with a municipal election. In order to add the question — should Owen Sound stop adding fluoride to its water — to the ballot during this year’s vote, council must approve a bylaw by April 30.
“There’s only one option open to us,” Twaddle said. “That’s the circumstance we find ourselves in.”
The operations committee is scheduled to meet Feb. 19 to discuss what was said at the public meeting and decide if it will recommend that city council approve holding a plebiscite in October.
If it does, council is to consider the recommendation in March, Twaddle said.
Residents can also force the referendum by collecting the signatures of at least 10% of Owen Sound voters on a petition in support of the plebiscite and presenting it to city hall by June 1.
Owen Sound is the only municipality in Grey-Bruce that adds fluoride to its drinking water. It has been doing so since 1965.
The practice is supported by public health agencies and many dental practitioners.
Opponents, on the other hand, say it is an outdated, ineffective practice that is not safe, poses a threat to human health and should not be forced on the masses.
The operations committee heard from people both for and against water fluoridation.
Grey-Bruce’s medical officer of health Dr. Hazel Lynn — the meeting’s first speaker — said fluoride has been proven to prevent tooth decay. It is safe to ingest in the amounts currently in the city’s drinking water.
“Removing fluoride would have negative effects on the oral health of many Owen Sound residents,” she said, especially the poor who cannot afford dental care or toothpaste.
No adverse health effects have been documented in Owen Sound as a result of fluoride in its drinking water, she said.
Owen Sound dentist Dr. John Totton, speaking on behalf of the Ontario Dental Association, said adding fluoride to drinking water is the cheapest and easiest way to prevent tooth problems in a population.
“It’s most effective for the disadvantaged, economically, as well as the very young and the very old,” he said.
But Owen Sound resident Terry Myland said there is evidence that adding fluoride to drinking water can cause a long list of health problems.
He said the question of continuing with fluoridation should be put to the people.
One young woman said adding fluoride to water might have its benefits but it should not be forced onto everyone.
“For me, it’s about choice,” she said.
Another person said she doesn’t want to find out in 10 or 20 years that ingesting fluoridated water causes adverse health effects.