February 23, 2019

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.