News Local

Petrolia's fluoride debate starts

David Pattenaude

The Petrolia Topic

Fluoridation of drinking water has been a contentious debate in communities for years and the debate has begun in Petrolia - and may continue at Petrolia council's April 23 meeting.

Councillors have received inquiries about fluoride being added to the town's drinking water so the town asked for the opinion of Dr. Christopher Greensmith, Lambton County's Medical Officer of Health.

Greensmith has told the town in a letter that "...community water fluoridation is beneficial to all residents, especially children, low income families and the elderly. Over 90 international organizations (such as the World Health Organization, Public Health Agency of Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) support the addition of fluoride into community water supplies."

Greensmith added it's important that children have access to fluoride "...to strengthen their teeth enamel and prevent dental disease."

But Petrolian Al Petersen, speaking to council at its March 19 meeting, said "...the risks (of fluoride) outweigh the limited benefits."

He gave council a report, based on his research, that said "...producing safe drinking water does not require fluoride to be added to it."

Petersen asked council to take a precautionary approach and discontinue fluoridation.

Fluoride (fluorosilic acid) is added at the town's water treatment plant in Bright's Grove at a dosage rate between .60 and .70 parts per million, according to town corporate services director Scott Gawley.

Ontario Clean Water Agency operators contracted by the town to operate the water treatment plant are responsible for adding fluoride to the drinking water, as required under the plant's certificate of approval issued by the Environment Ministry, said Gawley in a report to council.

"The addition of fluoride in the town's drinking water is primarily a municipal issue in consultation with the public and the medical officer of health, he said. After the meeting, Gawley explained the ministry doesn't require a municipality to use fluoride.

Gawley said staff is checking to see how long fluoride has been added to Petrolia's drinking water.

Petersen's report also said fluoridation is not required under Ontario's Safe Drinking Water Act; it is a municipality's option.

His report said Petrolia council "...assumes full responsibility for verifying the safety of the product (fluoride) used, its application to the water supply, and the health risks which occur; yet take it on faith from other authorities the product used not only meets the criteria, but is otherwise safe, even though it's up to the town alone to make that final determination.

"The Ministry of Environment, local medical officer of health, Health Canada, and the American Water Works Association can state in a general sense the concept of fluoridation is beneficial because they assume no liability for responsibility and decisions about Petrolia's drinking water system and chemical supplies."

Petersen said fluoride is only potentially effective in protecting teeth as a topical treatment; not from ingestion. He added because fluoride is also ingested with mouthwash, food, toothpaste and beverages, "...total fluoride exposure needs to be limited."

He said by adding fluoride to the water supply, council is accepting unnecessary liability for potential damages and health impacts.

Petersen said ending the use of fluoride would:

- Eliminate the risk of chronic workplace exposure to hydrofluorosilic acid chemical emissions for water treatment plant operators;

- Eliminate the potential risk to the health of drinking water consumers; and

- Eliminate exposure to liability for damages and impacts.

Peterson said it's challenging to determine if exposure to low concentrations of any known hazardous compound over a long period of time causes health impacts.

But he said many municipalities have discontinued using fluoride and added "It's clear from a simple risk/benefit analysis the benefits of water fluoridation don't justify the cost and the risk."

Council tentatively tabled discussion about fluoride to its April 23 meeting after Councillors Mary-Pat Gleeson and Joel Field said Peterson's report and supplementary information is a "lot of information" to digest.

"There's a lot of information to go through, to make sure we are making the right decision," said Field.

Mayor John McCharles said a municipal referendum would be needed to take fluoride out of the town's drinking water

Gawley said after the meeting staff is checking to see if a referendum would actually be needed; and is also checking to see if a referendum was used to begin the use of fluoride. If a referendum was used to start it, another would be needed to end it, he said.

Gawley said April 23 is only a tentative date to continue the fluoride debate because the town is still trying to secure the attendance of people such as Greensmith and Petersen.

Council meetings start at 7 p.m.