A petition circulating to add a question to the 2018 municipal election ballot about removing fluoride from Owen Sound's water supply is garnering momentum.
Oliver Hartan, spokesperson for Fluoridation Free Owen Sound (FFOS), says the group already has more than 1,000 signatures supporting its appeal to the city to pose the question on the 2018 election ballot: "are you in favour of the discontinuance of the fluoridation of the public water supply of this municipality?"
Hartan says, "the petition is really just asking City Hall to give Owen Sound residents a chance to vote on whether or not they want fluoride in their drinking water."
According to a city staff report to the Operations Committee, a question pertaining to fluoridation can only be placed on the municipal election ballot through a by-law passed by Council or a petition of registered electors that meets certain criteria.
A city staff member says the Operations Committee opted not to pursue submitting a report to council to add the question on the ballot through a by-law.
The city clerk's office tells us a petition requires 10% of the municipal electorate, or about 1,650 people, to be added to the ballot.
In order to be added to the 2018 ballot, a petition must be received by May 1, 2018 and be certified sufficient by the city clerk -- meaning it is verified to meet the minimum of 10% of the electors in the municipality.
The City of Owen Sound introduced fluoride to the municipal water supply in 1965.
This isn't the first time efforts have been made to cease adding fluoride to the city's water. In 1997, a public referendum was held asking ratepayers if "they were in favour of the discontinuance of the fluoridation of the public water supply." It didn't pass, with 59.94% of respondents voting 'no'.
Then again in 2014, the question was included on the municipal elections ballot. Although closer, it was still defeated, as 55.59% opted against removing fluoride.
"Leading up to that election a lot of Owen Sound residents were really only getting one side of the story," Hartan explains. "They were essentially just hearing water fluoridation is safe and effective. The truth of the matter is there is more to this story."
Opinion on the impact of fluoride is split. It's hailed by supporters as an essential product for dental health to minimize tooth decay, while restoring and strengthening enamel. Detractors link fluoride to a wide array of health problems ranging from infertility to arthritis.
One of those detractors is Sandra Barker, another local resident helping FFOS efforts to stop fluoridation of the public water supply. She's seen firsthand the devastating health effects fluoride can have on people.
"I'm concerned because of a personal experience in my family. My husband died from fluoride toxicity," Barker says. "I don't want anyone to go through what he went through."
"Some people are extremely sensitive to fluoridation. Other people, it probably doesn't affect," continues Barker. "Still again, other people are affected but don't recognize it because some of the symptoms are diagnosed as other diseases."
According to Hartan, Parry Sound recently moved to stop fluoridation of its drinking water supply. Many municipalities across Ontario over the past decade have moved to stop adding the substance to their water supplies, including larger centres like Windsor and Waterloo.
In October 2016, the Ontario legislature passed a non-binding motion - more symbolic as opposed to legislation - to ban cities from removing fluoride from their water supplies.
Hartan says FFOS obtained Health Canada documents through the Freedom of Information (Act) that clearly show Health Canada has not done a sufficient long-term toxicology study about the health and safety of water fluoridation.
According to the Fluoridation Act, only a referendum can lead to fluoride being removed from a public water system.
City council can't pass a by-law to remove fluoride in accordance with the Act unless a public referendum first passes.
The Operations Committee report says city council would still have to pass a by-law to discontinue fluoridation of the water system if a public referendum were to favour it.
Health Canada has information about fluoride published on its website. (https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/your-health/environment/fluorides-human-health.html)
Fluoridation Free Owen Sound has many resources, too, pertaining to water fluoridation on its website. (www.ffos.ca)