Belated public backlash may force the Region to reconsider a five-year-old decision to eliminate fluoride from regional drinking water.
Most Niagara municipalities have historically gone without fluoride in their water — in St. Catharines, for example, residents voted against adding the chemical decades ago.
Parts of Pelham, Welland and Thorold received fluoridated water on-and-off as late as 2001, however, repeated mechanical failures convinced the Region to quietly abandon the practice.
So quietly, in fact, that some residents and dentists assumed the fluoride tap was still on — and now many are upset they weren’t told.
“Some people were surprised,” said Leo Gohier, acting water director for the Region.
A letter was sent out to dentists in 2006 belatedly explaining the reasons behind the move.
“But that’s not the same as informing the public,” Gohier admitted.
Regional staff attempted to formalize the fluoride ban in May, but resident concerns convinced councillors to seek more public input.
They got it at two public meetings, in Welland and Thorold, earlier this week.
Gohier said residents wanted to hear why they weren’t told when the fluoride disappeared, the reasons behind the ban and the public health pros and cons.
Members of of the Niagara and Welland dental associations also came out in favour of fluoridation, arguing it prevents tooth decay and ultimately saves health-care dollars.
Residents want to know the true public health consequences — and so do regional councillors, said Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn.
“We want to be clear on that before we make a decision,” Augustyn said.
“The real issue is tooth decay and strategies to prevent it. The strategy in the ’60s was fluoride.
“What’s the strategy now?”
In the latest regional report, the public health department states its support for fluoride as a legitimate method of ensuring dental health.
But the department also notes modern toothpastes, mouthwash and processed foods are full of fluoride.
From a public works perspective, revamping fluoride is impractical and expensive, Gohier said.
Fluoridation stopped in part because adding hydrofluosilicic acid to water corroded pipes and machinery quickly, causing more frequent leaks and breakdowns.
Because the water treatment plants are so interconnected, Gohier said it would be “extremely difficult” for the Region to start fluoridating some communities but not others.
It would also be costly, possibly requiring millions of dollars in new water mains, one-way valves and machinery, Gohier said.
Regional staff will include the results of the public meetings as an addendum to the original staff report and present them to council, probably in the next month, Gohier said.
“We’ll put the information out there and council will make a decision,” he said.