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Toronto Voters may get teeth into fluoride issue - September 8, 1999

City asked to put drinking water question on ballot

By Bruce DeMara
Toronto Star City Hall Bureau

The City of Toronto should put a question on the 2000 municipal election ballot asking residents if they want to continue adding fluoride to their drinking water, a city council committee has been told.

Hardy Limeback, head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto, said he used to be a consultant to the Canadian Dental Association on fluoridation before scientific evidence persuaded him it does more harm than good.

``In Canada, I'm one of the outspoken spokespersons for taking fluoride out of the water supply,'' Limeback said, after addressing the city's administration committee.

Former Toronto councillor Tony O'Donohue also spoke out against fluoridation.

``It's been 36 years . . . since Toronto had a referendum on fluoride and it just barely squeaked through at that time. There has been substantial epidemiological evidence now to show that we made a wrong turn,'' O'Donohue said.

Nutritionist Janet Budgell said fluoride has traditionally been used as a rat poison, less dangerous than arsenic and more deadly than lead.

``We're concerned about lead and our children because we know the effects of lead and yet here we have something that's far more dangerous in our water supply,'' Budgell said.

A provincial group called the Coalition Against Water Fluoridation is considering a class action suit against the dental association and municipalities which fluoridate water, Budgell said.

But Canadian Dental Association president-elect John Diggenns said last night the Canadian dental community is convinced of the benefits of fluoride in drinking water.

``The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recently called the fluoridation of water one of the great public health achievements in this century,'' Diggenns said. ``It's on a level with the polio vaccine and the discovery of penicillin.''

Even though the association warns against children swallowing toothpaste or fluoride gel at the dentist's, Diggenns said the amount of fluoride in water is so small it cannot be harmful.

Limeback said fluoride causes fluorosis in young people, causing white spots on teeth, eroding enamel, leading to dental problems.

``It now costs more money to treat fluorosis than it would cost to treat dental decay if we took fluoride out of the water,'' Limeback said.

In the long term, fluoride makes bones more brittle, causing pain and arthritis-like symptoms and making people more susceptible to hip fractures, he said.

He noted that Vancouver and Montreal have never had fluoridated water and that countries in Europe stopped using it years ago.

People can get sufficient amounts of fluoride from toothpaste - though children especially should be taught not to swallow it - and ingesting it in drinking water can actually be harmful, Limeback said.

The administration committee agreed to refer the issue to the board of health and to the works committee, which oversees the city's water supply.

But Councillor David Miller (High Park) said he has experienced first-hand the downside of growing up in a country without fluoride in the water.

``My personal experience of not having fluoridated water meant that my teeth are completely rotten and that's the history of anyone who grew up in England,'' Miller said.

``I'd certainly be very surprised if the board of health said we should stop using preventive treatment in the water because it's been effective. If you look at kids' teeth in Toronto, it's certainly different than where I grew up,'' Miller added.

Committee chair Lorenzo Berardinetti (Scarborough City Centre) said the presentation ``certainly gave me the impression that we were poisoning people with fluoride. I'm sure there's another side to the story.''

A spokesperson for the city's public health department was not available for comment.

With files from Michael Bettencourt

Last modified: 9 September 1999

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