Recently grabbing a tube of toothpaste for his young kids off a store shelf, Mayor Eddie Francis said the product label read: “Fluoride-free — safe to swallow.”
For the past six decades, Windsor has been adding fluoride to the municipal water supply in order for people to gulp it down with each drink poured from the tap, part of the public fight against tooth decay.
But some Windsorites are expressing concern with that long-established health practice. Both sides on the issue will be fighting it out at a special city council meeting Jan. 28.
“I expect a long debate,” said Francis, who recently made public his own view that the days of fluoridation should end. “It’s 2013 — what may have been relevant 60 years ago may not be relevant today given the advances in health sciences — many, many jurisdictions around the world have taken it out.”
Expect a showdown, then, with local health and dental authorities vowing to fight to maintain in Windsor what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention once described as one of the Top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.
“We’ll be making a strong presentation supporting the continued use of fluoridation,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Allen Heimann. “There needs to be very strong evidence to discontinue a well-accepted public health intervention like this.”
It’s been almost a year since a majority of the Windsor Utilities Commission board voted with the critics and recommended a stop to artificial fluoridation. WUC also pipes drinking water to Tecumseh, where a slim council majority voted to call for an end to fluoridation, and LaSalle, where council, following a similarly heated debate there, shied away from a vote pending further information from health authorities.
“The concern of myself, as well as the dental community, is that we’ll see an increase in caries and other dental disease down the road,” said Heimann. He said it was “a possibility” that provincial and federal health authorities will be invited to Windsor to join the Jan. 28 debate.
“We’re excited we’re finally getting this before council,” said Donna Mayne, one of the driving forces behind the grassroots Fluoride Free Windsor. “It took 60 years to get the lead out of gas.”
The group has been bombarding council members with studies, reports and shared Internet postings describing the concerns and purported long-term dangers of artificial fluoridation of drinking water. Mayne asks how many Windsor mothers, for example, know of health agency warnings to either limit or avoid the use of fluoridated water in the making of infant formula.
Some of their points: the pharmaceutical-grade fluoride compound originally used by municipalities has long since been replaced with much cheaper hydrofluorosilicic acid that is sourced from fertilizer plant waste otherwise deemed too toxic to be released into the environment. The vast majority of fluoride-treated water ends up in the environment; the dosage of what critics call a medicine is indiscriminate and accumulates in the body, with excessive fluoride levels making for brittle bones and triggering thyroid disease and other negative health effects.
“The scientific studies we have, and will be presenting, show there’s no evidence of that,” Heimann counters. “It’s been in Windsor over 60 years, and if there are any significant health impacts in Windsor, where are they?”
Mayne said her group — which also keeps updating councillors on the latest municipalities to bow out of fluoridation – is ready with studies of its own showing no significant difference in the incidence of rotten teeth between those municipalities where there’s fluoridation and those where there’s none.
A year ago, Heimann said his health unit would study and compare the incidence of cavities in Kingsville and Leamington, where there is no fluoridation, and Windsor. Heimann told The Star week that the study wasn’t undertaken because such data is not collected by municipalities.
“Not once have we seen a report by Dr. Heimann (comparing local communities) or a letter from Leamington or Kingsville saying they want it (fluoridation),” said Francis.
While the mayor’s opinions are often persuasive around the council table, there will be opposition in this debate, particularly from council members sitting on the local health board.
“Who are these anti-experts? I’m for fluoridation,” said Ward 9 Coun. Hilary Payne. He points to health authorities at all three levels of government advocating for its continued use, and he said he’s been “quietly compiling material” for use during council’s deliberation.