Fluoride debate a 'hot potato,' says Moncton mayor

Moncton city council heard from both sides of the water fluoridation debate on Monday night. The city will decide at the end of the month whether it will go back to putting fluoride in the water.

Mayor Dawn Arnold said Monday night that council has tough decisions ahead

Moncton city council heard more than two hours of presentations about the merits of fluoridation, as well as safety concerns.

About 80 people, including the Mayor of Riverview and Dieppe, sat in Moncton council chambers for three hours Monday night, listening to presentations for and against the addition of fluoride to the city's municipal water. 

Against fluoridation was a group represented by a dentist, a pharmacist, a community member, and Olivier Clarisse, a professor at the University of Moncton who studies the effects of metal contaminants in the environment.

Clarisse suggested council continue its moratorium on adding hexafluorosilicic acid to the water supply for a few more years until more research is done.

"I'm not completely against it, but I'm not for it, too, because there's a lot of scientific debate," he said.

Olivier Clarisse is a chemistry and bio chemistry professor at the University of Moncton. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Presenting on the safety and benefits of fluoride was Dr. Yves Leger, regional medical officer of health and president of the Moncton Dental Society, and Dr. Suzanne Drapeau McNally, vice president of the New Brunswick Dental Society.

Drapeau McNally said she's seen an increase in tooth decay in the five years since fluoride was removed from the water.

"In the name of the most vulnerable please return to fluoridated water," she said.

Isabelle LeBlanc with the city of Moncton said putting fluoride back in the municipal water system will cost the city $60,000 a year, plus a one-time fee of $20,000 to update the facility.

But the cost wasn't discussed at the meeting.

Council remains divided on issue

Mayor Dawn Arnold said for her it's about deciding between two factors.

"The long term effects of dental decay, the public health impact for all ages, versus the possible long term chronic effects," she said.

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said she'd rather the federal government make a decision about fluoride for the whole country, but since council will have to decide, she said it will do its due diligence. (CBC)

"As we've made it very clear tonight, none of us are scientists or dentists and this is a hot potato that I personally believe should be dealt with at another level of government,

"But alas it will be up to us."

Some councillors, including Pierre Boudreau, were leaning against a return to fluoridation.

Boudreau said he's in favour of the precautionary principle of, "when in doubt, you leave it out," which was met with a round of applause.

Councillor Charles LeBlanc leaned towards bringing fluoride back.

"You know what, at one point in time, you have to rely on authorities, you have to rely on people who are somewhat unbiased, or at least they should be," he said.

Council has a few weeks to make a decisions. The matter will go to a vote at the next regular meeting on February 27.