For 40 years, the six Ontario municipalities that share the Lambton Area Water Supply System have been debating whether it’s safe to add fluoride to their drinking water. This November, the issue may finally be put to rest.
Like many Canadian water supplies, Lambton began adding fluoride to its water four decades ago as an inexpensive way to ward off tooth decay. But for just as long, some have opposed the practice as unnecessary—and possibly dangerous. “It’s been an issue every year since fluoride was put in in the ’60s,” says Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, Ont., which shares the water supply. Then, last year, Health Canada poured fuel on the fire with a report saying that adding too much fluoride did have adverse effects, and recommended a decrease in allowed levels.
That’s one of the reasons Lambton Shores Mayor Gord Minielly is ready to see fluoride go. Fluoridization was invented during the war, he claims, when fluoride was being used as a component in the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “After the war, somebody came up with the idea that it was good for our teeth.” Minielly says he sees the effects of over-fluoridation—fluorosis, or, discolouration of tooth enamel—on his grandchildren. “This stuff is poison,” he warns.
But Bradley dismisses those claims as products of a ’60s “right wing conspiracy.” Fluoride is integral to good dental hygiene, he insists. “I grew up in Australia and came here with terrible teeth. I’m still paying the price. So I’m very sure personally that I’m protecting children and their dental health.”
Todd Case, the water supply chair, just wants to settle the matter. He says that Health Canada is supposed to issue a report on its policies regarding fluoride in drinking water this fall, and he plans to call a special meeting for November to resolve the debate.
But even that tentative proposal has the mayors squabbling yet again. Bradley says the board should hold a plebiscite on the issue in 2010 and let the voters decide. Minielly calls that suggestion “ridiculous.”