Now that the town has decided to keep fluoride in its water, it approved a $250,000 upgrade to safely store and distribute the chemical into the town’s water system.
In June, the town unanimously agreed to keep fluoride in its water following a lengthy deputation from North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Jim Chirico.
At the same meeting, Peter Brown, the town’s director of public works, said the chemical poses potential hazards for town staff that dispense it in its raw form, and said the town needed to upgrade its storage and dispensing procedures.
“When the plant was built, it was standard procedures to place all chemicals in the same room – as long as they didn’t react to one another,” Brown said during the June 2 meeting. “If we continue to use this chemical, public works will have to plan for such a design in the very near future resulting in a significant cost to our ratepayers.”
According to Brown, Ministry of Environment inspectors were concerned about the location of fluoride in the water treatment building, but there was a significant price tag attached to relocating the chemical to a safer storage room.
“This chemical is highly dangerous to work with,” Brown said. “Staff have to wear personal protective equipment each time the chemical is decanted. It has been shown to etch glass and degrade paint on walls of the plant. It is not a safe chemical. I believe the town may be placing the staff at risk when they are exposed to it.”
At its September 1 meeting, council approved the necessary upgrades.
This summer, staff had ch2m Hill, the company that constructed the plant, conduct an extensive review of the existing fluoridation system and provide a proposal outlining the upgrades and modifications.
“The decision to continue fluoridation safely will be costly,” Brown wrote in his September 1 report to council. “The engineer has estimated the capital work to be in the range of $150,000. Engineering cost is estimated to be in the range of $50,000. Considering the amount of work required and timeframes, I would estimate the cost of the entire work to be closer to $250,000. And, to be quite frank, the Town of Parry Sound has no choice but to proceed with this plan.”
Brown estimates the work will take about five months to complete.
“The decision by council to continue to use the fluoride allowed me to proceed with the project to make fluoride safe at the workplace. Presently the system is antiquated as far as the use of it in the water plant. We have to bring it up to health and safety standards to make the chemical safe for the staff to use…in order to continue the use of fluoride safely for the staff, this is what I recommend,” said Brown.
Coun. Bonnie Keith asked if other municipalities who also use fluoride in their water have had to upgrade their systems.
“Approximately six or seven years ago the District of Muskoka had a similar project that involved the water plant on Highway 60 in Huntsville,” Brown said. “(They) had their fluoride system upgraded in a similar fashion at a similar cost. A lot of municipalities in the province are following in this path; they’re mandated to ensure the health and safety of the staff, as are we. This is the only real recourse since council has approved the use of fluoride in the water.”
“The only other option,” Mayor Jamie McGarvey said. “Would be if council changed its mind – which we have the right to do.”
Coun. Doug McCann said he could see both sides of the argument, but it was the cost he was having difficulty with.
“Where are we finding the $250,000? This is most controversial thing we’ve dealt with – in my term anyway – has been the maintaining of fluoride. I think there seems to be equal arguments on each side of the fence, but I’m having a hard time coming up with $250,000 to continue with this,” McCann said.
Coun. Paul Borneman said taking the safety of its workers into account, the cost was reasonable.
“We voted, I think, unanimously, when Dr. Chirico was here. I think that there were questions at the table before he arrived and there none when he left about the health benefits of the continuation of the fluoridation of the water here, so I would say that $250,000 to ensure public health so far as we can to protect our workers is a reasonable price to pay,” said Borneman. “It is odd to hear that something that is 15 years old or thereabouts described as antiquated and it does speak to the issues that we’re having with infrastructure, technology, and such in the municipal world.”
Brown told council the upgrades would last a minimum of a decade before more upgrades might be necessary.
All of council except Coun. McCann voted in favour of Brown’s report and recommendation.
At council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15, the group Parry Sounders for Progressive Water Management will be making a deputation opposing council’s decision to keep fluoride in the municipal water system.