Sunday Screed: Waterloo Fluoride Vote

It’s official.  In a 10 to 3 vote the Regional Council of Waterloo has voted to end the fluoridation of tap water in the city.  I’ve already posted on the issue here and here.

In this post I aim to 1) examine the arguments surrounding the fluoride debate and demonstrate why the anti-fluoride side is wrong and 2) what this decision means for the sceptic community of Waterloo.

In the wake of the public vote during the municipal elections one anti-fluoridation proponent had expressed his joy via Facebook over Waterloo residents’ vote to end fluoridation.  I stated  my dismay over what I felt was a victory of anti-science sentiments over reason and logic.  The proponent’s response to this was, “Get informed!”  To which I rightfully asked, “Would you care to inform me?”  To this day I have yet to receive a response and I’m not holding out for one.

This suggestion that I educate myself in order to free myself of the ignorance I apparently held in the matters relating to water-fluoridation has been the only direct interaction I’ve had with an ant-fluoridation proponent.  Therefore, the following summarization of the positions held by this side is 3rd-hand knowledge.  I welcome any input from anti-fluoridation proponents who can provide me with a first-hand account of their views.

The anti-fluoride proponents in Waterloo can be divided into two groups: Environmentalists opposed to it for health and safety reasons and Libertarians who believe it is a matter of choice.   There are other views but they delve into the realm of the absurd and are more likely to be subsets of the two parent groups.

Environmenalists

“It’s a poison!”  Such is a crude paraphrasing of the environmentalists opposed to fluoridation.  Fluoride can have adverse effects but this depends on the dosage and at commonly recommended dosages effects are almost neglible with the only concern being dental fluorosis.  Guidelines are in place set by the WHO to maintain safe dosage levels.  Furthermore:

Additional studies on links between fluoride and cancer, and fluoride and bone fractures have been shown to be invalid, at least with the data available at this time. http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/fact_sheets/benefits.htm

The words “data available at this time” may entice some to evoke the precautionary principle but given the fluoridation of Waterloo tap water has been ongoing for 43 years the decision to end it can hardly be viewed as ‘precautionary’.  Unless the anti-fluoride proponents can point to credible studies showing a link between ills such as cancer and fluoridation than they are engaging in nothing more than speculative fear-mongering.

Libertarians

“Everything is about choice and if you take anyway any single choice you are taking away freedom!”  Again, a simplified version of the Libertarian argument against everything fluoridation.

Asides from being an odd choice to fight for in a world filled with some many more pressing issues when it comes to freedoms, the argument fails to suggest how those of us who do want to drink – or at least don’t have a problem with – fluoridated water.  Choice is a two-way street.

I wonder if these Libertarians would ever object to the salting of streets during the winter?  Maybe I don’t want my tax dollars going towards materials that could damage my nice pants.  Perhaps I enjoy slipped and sliding on my way to work.

The Future: What this Means for UW Sceptics

While it does remain to be seen what the long-term impacts of this decision will actually be, – dentists have raised concerns over declining teeth quality in Waterloo – what is clear is what needs to be done by members of the sceptic community in Waterloo.

I am currently not in Waterloo and so am not fully aware of what transpired leading up to the vote but, from talking to my friends and fellow sceptics I get the sense that our side was not as active as it should’ve been and given the narrow margin by which the measure passed many are convinced that action on our part may have made a difference.

What shoud’ve been done and what we should do.

The sceptic community needs to engage itself with the broader community.  This means moving beyond gathering on a weekly basis in a room to preach to the converted to information campaigns.  A booth set up to inform people about the facts on fluoride would’ve been an effective counter-attack to statements being put out by anti-fluoridation proponents.

This is a simple strategy that should be adhered to in the event that another anti-science battle crops up in the Waterloo Region that could have an impact.

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