By: Doug Schmidt (Reporter), The Windsor Star, Windsor, Ontario 27-Feb-2012 — To the critics of fluoride, it’s pretty straightforward: Windsorites are being mass medicated without their consent with an industry-sourced waste chemical that is considered too toxic to be released directly into the environment, but which is considered safe enough to be added to our drinking water.
To its backers, it’s equally simple: Fluoridation of municipal drinking water is one of the cheapest, most effective ways to combat tooth decay in children, it’s been flowing from our taps for more than a half-century, and an exhaustive list of government authorities gush that it’s one of the best public health achievements of the past century.
Windsor’s council and mayor will soon be forced to play doctor and decide on whether the city continues a practice that a growing number of cities are backing out of.
It will become increasingly harder for the politicos to ignore the issue — as of Jan. 1, 2013, changes to Ontario’s Safe Drinking Water Act will make municipally elected officials legally responsible for negligence related to municipal water systems. If half the scary stuff the critics are saying is true, then I foresee future lawsuits in our increasingly litigious society. The fluoride contrarians like to point out that during the era when the stuff first entered our homes via the plumbing, advertisers were also advising us that “more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”
Windsor Utilities Commission is hosting a special public meeting on fluoridation at city hall on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
WUC administration has been studying the matter and is expected to make a recommendation to the board, but it’s ultimately city council’s call. I was told the report relies heavily on what the health community recommends, and both the local dental society and the health unit are heavy supporters of continued fluoridation.
But a growing number of citizens, connected and empowered through social media and the Internet, are questioning what they’re told by experts and authorities is best for them. One expert I interviewed for my recent feature on the subject, Paul Connett, a retired professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology with years of delving into the fluoride issue, feels there’s a lot more at stake for the authorities pushing for the fluoride status quo.
“Lose fluoridation and you lose credibility, lose credibility and you lose the public’s trust — maybe they’re not protecting fluoridation, maybe they’re protecting vaccinations,” said Paul. Remember how nervous the health authorities became when growing numbers of parents began questioning why it was so important to artificially innoculate their kids to fend off the winter flu?
“They’re scared stiff of admitting they got it wrong,” said Paul.
Expect local medical officer of health Dr. Allen Heimann — who, like me, is neither a toxicologist, an epidemiologist or a scientist — to come armed with experts and reassuring documents. Health unit board chairman Gary McNamara, mayor of Tecumseh — which has some say on the matter because both Tecumseh and LaSalle consume about a fifth of WUC’s water — recently suggested a referendum (just what i want — my neighbors voting on whether or not i get medicine).
I agree with WUC chairman and city councillor Bill Marra when he says it’s a difficult subject for the layman. Researching my story, for every good point from one side came an equally compelling counterpoint from the other side.
But in good science and good public health, there’s a thing called the precautionary principle — if there’s any doubt or question, THEN DON’T DO IT. If we were simply guided by years or decades of past behavior, we’d still have mercury tooth fillings killing our brains or asbestos-lined homes and brake pads ravaging our lungs.
Mayor Eddie Francis, whom I’m told holds some sway on WUC and council, told me he’d be quite satisfied to see fluoridation end in Windsor, so there’s a beachhead for the opposition. (Eddie’s cornered on this one — his wife, who runs a wellness centre, is a chiropractor, whose professional body is opposed to fluoridation).
It’s not a big money matter, with WUC spending under $150,000 a year on fluoride. That money could be used to top up existing health unit programs targeting dental health care for lower income families (who tend not to have a choice on whether their kids fluoridate or not).
By the way, it’s not really fluoride that’s used in Windsor and most other municipal water systems — it’s fluorosilicic acid, which is a toxic waste byproduct of the phosphate fertilizer manufacturing process. At about the same time as government agencies decided to ban the stuff from being released into the environment, industry was able to convince municipalities that it was just as effective and way cheaper than the pharmaceutical grade stuff they had been using to fight cavities (there are so many cool stories related to this topic — years from now, our grandchildren will be either horrified at us or laughing in stitches).
It’s an important issue — that’s why each speaker at Wednesday’s special WUC meeting gets five minutes to make their case.