Framing the Fluoride Debate

Ever since it was first proposed for use in municipal water systems in the 1930s (1), fluoride use has been the centre of a highly polarized and often very emotional debate between opponents and proponents.

In 1945, Brantford was the first Canadian municipality to add fluoride to its drinking water. Municipal usage grew until 2009, when Health Canada estimated about 45 per cent of the country’s population was drinking fluoridated water. Since then, popular movements to remove fluoride have reduced that to about 37 per cent (2).

Still, in Ontario the percentage of the population drinking fluoridated water remains above 75 per cent. (3)

While guidelines for fluoride were created by both federal and provincial governments, until recently, in Ontario it was left to the individual municipality to decide its use. Then, in early October, the Ontario Legislature passed a private member’s bill that bans municipalities from removing fluoride from their water supplies. That might signal a future change in provincial policies and legislation.

Mississauga-Streetsville MPP Bob Delaney’s 2016 motion is non-binding, but it opened the debate again (4). And it is one the Ontario Municipal Water Association believes should be discussed in context with municipal issues and concerns and with full consultation with its members.

“We’re not going to debate the science,” Andrew Henry, president of OMWA, said at a recent meeting of the board of directors where the issue was a hot topic of discussion. “That’s not our business. Our role is policy, politics and governance.”

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The Romance of Wastewater

wastewater treatment plant (Wikipedia)What could be more romantic for Valentine’s Day than to take your date on a tour of the local wastewater plant? That’s how the New York City Department of Environmental Protection promotes its highly successful tours, now in their fifth year (1). In 2015, three Sunday tours of 100 people each were booked. Participants took home a commemorative card and lapel pin.(2)

During the tour, participants got a quick course on how the city treats its wastewater before they are taken around the plant. It all takes about 90 minutes. The event has developed a bit of a cult following and reservations for a spot fill up rapidly. The website tells people what to expect and – importantly – what to wear.(3)

The result of each tour is dozens of media articles, hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts, a couple of YouTube videos (4), all free publicity for the municipal water services. Plus, it creates a growing public appreciation of municipal water treatment and its infrastructure, which can only help recruitment.

Public understanding of utility services is at best sketchy. After all, most of the infrastructure is hidden below ground or behind walls. There’s a disconnect between what comes from the tap and how it gets to it, safely and cleanly. That can be changed.

A tour is an opportunity to open the doors and let people see what their tax dollars are spent on. And they get to put faces to the process, meeting the workers and seeing their environment, which helps them connect to the service better than any charts or numbers will.

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