THE WATER SUPPLY
By George Siamandas
© George Siamandas
BACKGROUND TO FLUORIDATION
Discovered in the 1930s, fluoridation of water supplies began in the US in 1945. Initially controversial, it proved safe and cost efficient in reducing dental cavities. The cost is about 50 cents per year. The cost to fill one cavity, $42, is equivalent to the cost of treating water for a person's entire lifetime. Meeting in Winnipeg at its 40th annual meeting in 1952, the Canadian Public Health Assoc. recommended fluoridation of water supplies as a national policy. Through the 1950s it reiterated its recommendation expressing regret about communities that were not acting. In Canada, Dr WL Hutton of Brantford Ont was the first to pioneer fluoridation. The Manitoba legislature passed a bill enabling Manitoba municipalities to introduce fluoridation. It further provided their right to opt out after a five-year trial period.
DEBATE OVER FLUORIDE
From the early 1950s debate raged about the prospects of introducing fluoridation to Winnipeg. A series of letters from private citizens warned of the damaging effects on health, civil rights, even the taxpayer's pocketbook. Support came from almost everywhere: from unions, and from medical authorities. All the way from the Canadian Dental Assoc., the Canadian Health League, the American Waterworks Association, and the American Medical Association. By 1956 fluoridation existed in all Canadian provinces excepting Alberta, PEI and Newfoundland. On Dec 28, 1956 the City of Winnipeg began to add fluoride to the city's water supply system for a future of healthier teeth.
Opponents peppered city council with letters opposed to "mass medication." Mrs Agnes Worthington said her children refused to drink the water, as they had seen their goldfish die after fluoride was introduced. Robert Toomy of Dominion St wanted a public referendum. Fluoridation was called chicanery, fraud, and the "vehicle of red warfare by communists." The Old Age Pensioners opposed it citing 119 dentists in Massachusetts who were against "the poison." The culprit was sodium fluoride. It was termed a poison that was being promoted by the aluminium industry because it was one of their by-products. Organizations like the Herald for Health summarized the risks of fluoride. A lady claimed that due to fluoride in the water she could no longer peel potatoes. Another woman could not hold her songbook in church. A third could climb the stairs more easily after having stopped drinking the water. Others saw flashing lights, felt mentally depressed, had difficulty getting out of bed, or experienced brittle nails and hair loss.
The only hazard noted by medical authorities was the possibility of mottled dental enamel with high concentrations 14 times the recommended dose of 1.5 ppm. Over time municipalities fell into line in support of the city of Winnipeg's intention to fluoridate the Winnipeg District water supply. But some like St James needed to be convinced and sought "leadership" from the city. Alberta recently reduced amounts.
Estimated costs were about $40,000 plus an annual operating cost of 11 cents per person at 1955 consumption levels. It was introduced at 1-1 1/2 parts per million. By the end of 1956 all Winnipeg municipalities fell in line and by 1957 citizens had fluoridated water.