March 19, 2019

Archives for February 8, 2011

Calgary council votes to end fluoridation of municipal water

By: Richard Cuthbertson, Calgary Herald, 08-Feb-2011

Calgary, Alberta — After passionate and sometimes rancorous debate, Calgary city council voted 10-3 Tuesday to eliminate fluoride from the city’s drinking water, rejecting pleas to send the matter to plebiscite or an expert panel.

The decision also went against the advice of Alberta Health Services, which has advocated for fluoride and maintains evidence shows it is safe and improves dental health. The vote left Calgary’s chief medical officer “very disappointed.”

And one local dentist worries that without added fluoride in the water, cavities in children will rise in coming years, and tooth problems will have to be treated more aggressively.

But the decision did thrill a number of anti-fluoride activists at the meeting, who have argued the compound should not be forced on people.

“It’s been a battle,” said Fay Ash. “It’s about freedom, it’s about choice and it’s about people taking ownership of their own health, not having it imposed on them.”

Detractors of fluoride worry it can be a health danger, doesn’t work, and say it essentially pushes a medication on a population who have no choice.

Municipal council member Druh Farrell spearheaded the effort to stop the additive from being put in Calgary’s water and said it is a matter of ethics. She points to Europe where fluoride is not in the water, but fluoridated salt can be purchased instead.

“It’s an issue that has been debated vociferously around the world for 50 years,” said Farrell. “It became an established point of view, but now the wisdom of it is being questioned around the world.”

This debate is not just a Calgary one. Later this month, Lethbridge, Alta., will be hearing from the public as they discuss the fluoridation of their water.

And in Waterloo, Ont., this fall, residents voted by the tiniest of margins to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water there.

About three-quarters of Alberta’s population have fluoridated water, compared to roughly 45 per cent nationally. In British Columbia, less than four per cent have fluoride in the water, according to 2007 Health Canada numbers.

“From what I’m hearing already, it’s resonating across North America if not the world,” Farrell told reporters. “Calgary is a city of significant size and a lot of cities are going through the same discussion.”

There was a push to send the issue to plebiscite. That how it was decided in 1989, when city voters narrowly approved adding fluoride to the water, something the city followed through with two years later.

Municipal councillor Ray Jones, who is opposed to fluoride being in the water, sought to have the issue head to plebiscite. He said since the late January public hearing on the issue he’s received numerous phone calls from people on both sides of the issue who want to vote on it.

“They don’t feel that we’re the experts either. They feel that it’s their decision to make, not our decision to make,” Jones said.

But municipal council member Jim Stevenson worried that with only 30 or 40 per cent of voters actually casting a ballot, a relatively small number would determine the issue for all Calgarians. He also noted votes have been very close.

The city will have to apply to Alberta Environment to change the city licence for its water treatment plants. That is a straight forward process, given it’s up to municipalities to decide if they want fluoride in the water, according to a department spokeswoman.

Alberta Health Services said it will now forge ahead with helping council craft alternatives to help improve the dental health of poor children.

Calgary Council Votes Out Fluoridation

CTV News Calgary,  Alberta (08-Feb-11, 2 min. 45 sec.)


Calgary’s drinking water will soon be fluoride-free. City aldermen voted by a margin of 10 to 3 on Tuesday to eliminate fluoridation from its water supply.


The issue of whether fluoride should be added to city water had become a divisive topic within the city.


After the city’s Utilities and Environment committee voted 5-1 to exclude fluoride from Calgary’s water supply, some aldermen called for the matter to be put to a plebiscite.


But after spending much of the afternoon Tuesday in heated debate about the issue, council decided not to have a public vote on the matter.


There was a financial aspect to the decision because fluoridation cost the city upwards of $750,000 a year, and millions of dollars more were needed to update the device that injects the fluoride.


But alderman Jim Stevenson said other factors were at play.


“For many of us, it was just whether or not it was ethical to be forcing medication on 100 per cent of the population, a lot of them that don’t want it,” he told CTV’s Power Play.


They also opted not to consult with the expert panel that was offered by the University of Calgary, for free.


Alberta Health says it is disappointed by the council’s decision. It says that while some communities have drinking water with plenty of natural fluoride, Calgary’s natural fluoride level is too low to help prevent cavities.


The region’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Richard Musto, is also disappointed by the decision. He’s argued that fluoride is safe and beneficial in low amounts, and a cost-effective way to improve oral health.


But city resident Elke Babiuk, who has spent more than 20 years fighting water fluoridation, says she’s pleased.


“I think public awareness has grown significantly, especially because of the internet, social media, lots of information out there right now, freedom of choice has always been important as well,” she told CTV Calgary.


Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra, who voted to end fluoridation, says the science just isn’t there to justify water fluoridation.


“I think the health-science view is predicated on a certain approach which I think is no longer entirely relevant. And I encourage health scientists to come forward with a point of view that carries the full view of science but is also more relevant to the sensibilities of the day,” Carra said.


The issue now goes to Alberta Environment, which will have to amend the city’s water licence, which could take several months.
Calgary has held six plebiscites on the issue of fluoridation since 1957, finally deciding in 1989 to begin adding fluoride to the city’s water supply. It started the program two years later.


Many communities in Canada have fluoride in their water supplies, but recent years have seen a backlash by those who question the long-term effects of the compound.


Critics worry that children may now be getting too much of the compound which could lead to fluorosis, a dental condition in which a build-up of fluoride causes unsightly dark splotches on the teeth.


But Dr. Euan Swan, of The Canadian Dental Association, says fluoridation isn’t dangerous in the amounts recommended by Health Canada.


“The weight of evidence tells us, tells Health Canada, that water fluoridation is safe,” he said, and by fighting tooth decay it “provides this lifetime benefit to all members of society.”


The Alberta Dental Association also calls water fluoridation an appropriate and effective public health measure.


Other critics worry whether fluoride can impede brain development in children.


Still others are against fluoridation because they say it’s unethical to distribute a substance to the masses without their full consent, and say fluoridation infringes on their right to choose.