A legal opinion will be sought to determine how fluoride could be eliminated from local drinking water.
Confusion reigned during a discussion about how the controversial additive could be eliminated at a meeting of the Lambton Area Water Supply System (LAWSS) Wednesday.
The board is split on whether fluoride should be in local drinking water and isn’t sure if it has the power to make that decision or if it should go to a plebiscite.
“There has to be some clarification on the process we’re going to follow,” said Warwick Mayor Todd Case.
Case said an environmental lawyer should be able to determine if the board can vote on the issue or if it must go to a public vote during the next municipal election in 2010.
The debate re-emerged after a panel of experts convened by Health Canada recommended new optimal concentrations of fluoride in drinking water. The study suggests that fluoride levels are ingested from a variety of sources by children and infants, and it should be lowered in drinking water and be monitored.
The report’s authors want Health Canada to adopt a level of 0.7 milligrams per litre as the optimal target in drinking water. The maximum acceptable concentration is currently 1.5 mg/L. The local water system is already well within those limits.
The system is run by six member municipalities which include Sarnia, Point Edward, Lambton Shores, St. Clair Township, Plympton-Wyoming and Warwick Township.
That partnership means that citizens should all have their own say, said board chairperson and Sarnia city councilor Terry Burrell. The process “gets fuzzy” when you look at how a vote would be conducted at the board level because some municipalities get more votes — like the City of Sarnia with five — because of their large populations, he said.
“We need to know how to get fluoride out, if that’s what we want to do,” he said.
The board members left the last meeting in August with instructions to consult their municipal councils and return with direction on whether they favoured a plebiscite on the issue and if they wanted fluoride in the system.
Lambton Shores Deputy Mayor Carolyn Jamieson said her council is against holding a plebiscite and wants the board to eliminate fluoride.
A legal opinion that council sought said the board has the power to vote on the fluoride issue and eliminate it without a plebiscite if it wishes.
“Some people feel very, very strongly that fluoride is unnecessary in the water system,” Jamieson said. “You get it in toothpaste and various other things.”
Warwick also wants a vote at the board level and wants the additive out. St. Clair Township wants a vote at the board level, but has not decided if fluoride should stay or go.
Plympton-Wyoming, Point Edward and Sarnia have yet to give direction to the LAWSS.
Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper said he believes fluoride should be kept in the water system, but knows it’s going to be a difficult decision for his council.
“We’re divided on it,” Napper said. “It’s a tough call. There are issues on both sides. I still believe in the medical officer of health and I feel there’s no reason to take it out.”
The board expects to have the legal opinion Sept. 18 and distribute it to it member municipal councils.