Windsor on Monday joined the growing number of municipalities which have voted to end the decades-old practice of adding fluoride to the water supply in the fight against tooth decay.

“A lot has changed in the last 60 years … fluoride is not the be-all and end-all to prevent tooth decay,” said Mayor Eddie Francis, who voted with the majority.

The motion passed 8-3 late Monday night.

Council’s rejection of fluoride after more than five hours of debate went contrary to the almost unanimous opinion of health and dental experts, as well as others with scientific backgrounds, present among the 27 delegations which spoke at the meeting.

“Do not be the municipal council known for making a health decision against the advice of your health advisers,” said Dr. Mark Drkulec, president of the Essex County Dental Association.

The safety and the effectiveness of fluoride added to municipal water to help in the fight against tooth decay is “the general consensus of the scientific community,” said Dr. Allen Heimann, the local medical officer of health. “I’m using the best scientific information that is provided to me,” he added, citing studies and reports from such agencies as Health Canada, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

But opponents of continuing with a practice that began more than 50 years ago in Windsor were quick to draw on their own list of experts, studies and reports to support their contention that Windsor should join the growing number of Canadian communities, including Lakeshore, Tecumseh, Amherstburg, Calgary and Waterloo, that have voted to end fluoridation.

“I want to be shown that when we ingest this, we are safe,” said Kimberley DeYong of Fluoride Free Windsor. She and others said not a single study among those cited by fluoridation proponents looked specifically at the industry-sourced chemical used by the municipality and its impact on human health outside of tooth enamel hardening.

The fluoride compound being added to Windsor’s water supply, hydrofluorosilicic acid, would be illegal to dump in the environment and represents “the only chemical we’re adding to our water for mass medication,” said Ayesha Drouillard, another member of Fluoride Free Windsor.

Sixteen of the 27 delegations spoke in support of the Windsor Utility Commission’s recommendation, made a year ago, to end fluoridation of Windsor’s municipal water, which is also piped to the residents of LaSalle and Tecumseh. Going into the meeting, council also had 81 submitted written reports and letters to digest.

“We’ve been inundated with emails and reports,” said Ward 8 Coun. Bill Marra. He asked why, with proponents so convinced of the continued “critical medical benefits” of fluoridation, the matter is left to individual municipal councils to decide.

“We’re part-time politicians asked to over-rule what the scientists are telling us,” Ward 3 Coun. Fulvio Valentinis said prior to the meeting.

London recently voted 10-5 in favour of continued fluoridation of municipal water. “I’m not worried for my community,” Bryna Warshawsky, acting medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London health unit, told Windsor’s council.

Peter Van Caulart, director of the Environmental Training Institute that trains municipal waterworks operators, said there’s been a 26 per cent drop in Canadian municipalities using fluoridation since 2005 and that in Niagara Falls, it was the first time council opposed its medical officer of health.

“That makes me nervous,” Valentinis said of council going against what the health establishment was advising on a health issue. He voted against the motion by Ward 1 Coun. Drew Dilkens to cease fluoridation.

But Ward 4 Coun. Alan Halberstadt said pregnant women locally need to be advised of warnings of potential harm in preparing infant formula with fluoridated tap water.

He described as “paternalistic” the idea that the community has to be “medicated” without their consent in order to treat against tooth decay.

“In Windsor, we have no choice but to drink the fluoride in the water,” said Ward 7 Coun. Percy Hatfield.

Dr. Arthur Worth, president of the Ontario Dental Association, was among several fluoridation proponents who argued that it’s a “cost-effective preventative strategy” that benefits “all members of the community,” including low-income and vulnerable groups like new immigrants who might lack dental insurance. Worth, a Chatham dentist, said he sees patients from Leamington and Kingsville, where there is no fluoridation, whose teeth are softer and have more cavities.

Photos of participants during the fluoridation debate at city hall in Windsor

Kimberly DeYong

Dr. Gary Kirk, associate medical officer of health and CEO Windsor Essex County Health Unit

Dr. Peter Cooney, Canadian Oral Health Advisor

Dr. Alan Heimann, medical officer of health

Roger Dzugan, CAW Local 200 Environment Committee

Dr. Charles Frank, past president and senior advisor to the Essex County Dental Association

Tia Toutant

Richard St. Denis, Great Lakes United

John Stuart, chief operating officer Windsor Utilities Commission

Dr. Dick Ito, public health dental specialist

Bryna Warshawsky, acting medical officer of health, Middlesex-London Health Unit

Denise Theos’

Heather Gingerich, Children’s Environmental Health and co-chair with the International Medical Geology Association

Jenn O’Brien

Kathryn Oppio

John Sprovieri, councillor with the Region of Peel

Dr. Arthur Worth, president Ontario Dental Association

Peter Van Caulart, director Environmental Training Institute