Almost a year after the Windsor Utilities Commission’s board voted to end fluoridation of the city’s drinking water, the additive long used to combat rotten teeth in kids — but described by critics as toxic — is still being mixed in with local tap water.
Don’t blame city hall for the long delay in getting the matter before city council. CAO Helga Reidel said administration only recently received the WUC staff report dealing with its board recommendation. For flouridation to end, city council has to first give its consent, and Reidel said the matter should now be on the council agenda early in the new year.
Asked about the length of time it’s taken to prepare and submit the report since the board’s vote in February, WUC chief operating officer John Stuart said it was a matter of “trying to get the correct balance, outlining the pros and cons.”
“It’s upsetting to me … we’ve been ingesting it for 10 months since the WUC board made its decision,” said Ward 4 Coun. Alan Halberstadt. He’s the co-chairman of the Windsor Essex County Environment Committee, which advised even earlier against the continued addition of hydrofluorosilicic acid to local drinking water.
“I’m not concerned, I’m not frustrated … but I’m wondering if it’s maybe because of pressure from the public health unit or the dental society,” Kimberly DeYong of Fluoride Free Windsor said of the delay. Local public health and dental authorities echo the recommendations of their provincial and federal counterparts for the continued flouridation of water, which has been used for more than a half-century in the fight against cavities.
But DeYong, representing a growing movement against fluoridation, said she hopes the delay is a sign that WUC staff have given “some serious thought” to the questions her group and other critics have raised.
And she’s probably right.
Ward 1 Coun. Drew Dilkens, who sits on the WUC board and who made the motion in February, said an initial draft of the staff report was rejected by the board. “In my humble opinion, I felt it did not fairly present both sides of the argument.”
Ward 8 Coun. Bill Marra, who stepped down as WUC board chairman during the fluoride debate in order to vote on Dilkens’s motion, said he went into that meeting open-minded but eventually sided with the “well organized and very well-informed” fluoride opponents. “They did a really good job, it was well-researched — I was impressed,” he said.
Nevertheless, Marra anticipates “a very lively debate” all over again when the subject goes before city council, one of the reasons Reidel said city staff are waiting for a council night with an otherwise light agenda to schedule the matter.
Stuart said ending fluoridation of the drinking water supply requires a new bylaw being passed by city council. The WUC board is recommending a five-year moratorium, but Stuart said any switch back again in the future would require another new bylaw being approved.
“My hats are off to them,” Stuart said of DeYong’s group. He said throughout his 15-year career in the municipal water business there have been opposition voices, but he credits the power of social media for seemingly helping turn the tide with the sharing of research and information critical of the status quo.
It costs WUC about $125,000 a year to fluoridate the water. In 2011, almost 3,200 tonnes of hydrofluorosilicic acid — a flouride derivative taken from the smokestacks of fertilizer plants — was added to the just over 49 billion litres of water treated by WUC.
WUC shares its water with neighboring LaSalle and Tecumseh, but opinion there seems split on discontinuing fluoridation.
“There’s clearcut evidence of the benefit — this is a product that has aided many, many people,” said Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara.
But when his town recently debated the subject, a 4-3 majority sided with the critics in demanding that fluoridation cease. McNamara, who chairs the local health board, was in the minority in siding with the local medical officer of health and the local dental society.
LaSalle’s council, also divided on the subject, voted to refer the matter to the province for further clarification.
“We are not in a position to contradict what our Medical Officer of Health is saying, and he’s saying it’s safe,” said LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya.
“Yes, maybe it prevents cavities in children, but what about osteoporosis in seniors?” said Dilkens. “There’s just too much competing information and not enough colluding information,” he added.
DeYong, whose group has been regularly peppering politicians with anti-fluoridation facts, points to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s website which now cautions new mothers to use only fluoride-free water to mix formula for babies under the age of six months.
DeYong said the trend across North America has been municipal authorities recognizing that “they can’t play doctor and continue to give us medication without our consent.”