Sunday, January 27, 2013

Political interference is hazardous to your health

On Monday, Windsor City Council will be holding a special meeting that will discuss whether the city should continue fluoridating Windsor's water supply. I'm pleased to read that the Windsor Star's Saturday editorial board takes this stand on the matter:

We can only hope council makes an educated decision; one that considers the mountains of research done by trained professionals in this field. It must not be swayed by those who have neither the credentials nor the research to back up their argument.

I was pleasantly surprised by this editorial because I've been troubled at how many of the city's reporters had been adopting the language of our local anti-fluoride lobby group. Here's one simple example: the first line of "Despite WUC recommendation, fluoridation of water continues"

Almost a year after the Windsor Utilities Commission’s board voted to end fluoridation of the city’s drinking water, the additive long used to combat rotten teeth in kids — but described by critics as toxic — is still being mixed in with local tap water.

Well, not quite. Water fluoridation is done to prevent cavities in kids and adults. It's worth taking the time to understand that poor dental health damages the health and economic well being of the working poor far beyond what we in the middle class might remember as just the temporary annoyance of a cavity in a baby tooth. “Almost every time we asked interviewees what their first priority would be if the president established universal health coverage tomorrow,” Sered and Fernandopulle write, “the immediate answer was ‘my teeth.’ ”  A third of the population of Windsor does not have dental insurance.

Also, the use of the word "toxic" is used by fluoride critics to discredit the practice. And yes, fluoride has a degree of toxicity. And so does caffeine.  Drinking 80 cups of coffee can kill you. You need to drink more than a bathtub of water for the fluoride in Windsor's water supply just to have an effect. I'm not a toxicologist but I would go so far as to suggest that the amount of caffeine in our pee is more toxic than the fluoride in our water.

Word association is the modus operandi of the anti-fluoride lobbyists. They have crafted their message very carefully over the years and they have a small stockpile of phrases designed to generate maximum doubt to the listener. But scratch under the surface of their words and you see that their evidence is scant when compared to the overwhelming amount of research that supports the practice. Unfortunately, it's an exhausting process because arguing against fluoride seems to be a full-time job of this small but uncompromising lobby group. Who has the time to do the research against their tidal wave of counterfactuals?

And this is why we have health officials who work for us and for our public health. They have the expertise and the ability to read and understand the research to measure the pros and cons to this practice. They need to do their job as free from political interference as possible.

It's troubling to know that Eddie Francis, the mayor of city, as well as city councillors Bill Marra and Alan Halberstadt have already publicly stated that they are going against the advice of the Windsor-Essex Public Health Unit and will vote in favour of the removal of fluoride from our water. One has to wonder if the the vote has been influenced by already established bad feelings over the fact the Windsor-Essex Public Health Unit went against the City's wishes and budgeted for a 7% increase this year:

Francis, who is still seething over the health unit's failure to back the city's passionate position on issues like heart and lung disease during the border infrastructure fight with the province...

I'm hoping for the best on Monday but it would not surprise me if reason and cooler heads will not prevail in the theatre of politics.

And that worries me because I have a conspiracy theory of my own. The same zealous anti-fluoride activists who are working around our Public Health agencies actually have a larger mission in mind. This is the just first offensive of a local anti-vaccination brigade.

DeYong said the trend across North America has been municipal authorities recognizing that “they can’t play doctor and continue to give us medication without our consent."

I wish that these individuals were as committed to removing CO2 from our atmosphere as they are from something relatively harmless from our water.

[editorial note: I will not be accepting arguments for or against fluoridation in this post's comments. thanks]

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