March 21, 2019

Town council votes to stop fluoridation: Councillors want program for low-income residents

By: Don Patterson, Okotoks Western Wheel, Okotoks, Alberta 25-Apr-2012 — Fluoride will be removed from Okotoks’ drinking water, but town councillors still have a few more steps to take before the Town stops adding the chemical for good.

Councillors voted 6-1 on April 23 to stop adding fluoride to drinking water, but they still need to approve a bylaw at a future meeting before the practice finally stops.

The vote is a victory for coun. Florence Christophers who proposed stopping fluoridation in January. She has argued science is divided on the effectiveness and safety of the practice and it comes down to a matter of choice.

“It’s a call for clearer science and until we have it, to me, I really believe the citizens deserve the option of whether or not to have this pharmaceutical floating in their blood stream,” said Christophers.

Opponents of fluoridation say the chemical contributes to a range of health problems including florosis of the teeth and creating brittle bones. Supporters of fluoridation say it’s a low-cost, effective public health program to prevent tooth decay, especially among low-income people who may not be able to afford dental care.

The Okotoks community is also divided on the issue, but there is support for stopping fluoridation in Okotoks. A survey on the Town’s website showed 66 per cent of respondents opposed fluoridation, with 33 supporting it. The Town also received comments on both sides of the issue through letters, its website and at a public hearing.

Council also approved a motion to consult with Alberta Health Services to ensure a program is in place to provide fluoride toothpaste or topical treatments for people at risk of dental decay. However, there was some concern this would not happen.

Christophers voted against this motion because she had wanted the Town to take the lead on creating such a program.

“I just think there’s such an opportunity here for our community to step up to the plate to work together in partnerships to make sure we are taking oral health seriously,” he said.

Okotoks mayor Bill Robertson cast the lone vote against removing fluoride saying there are benefits to having fluoridation, particularly for children.

“I tend to err on the side of protecting our most vulnerable people,” he said.

Robertson unsuccessfully tried to have a plebiscite held in conjunction with the Oct. 2013 municipal election. He was the lone member on council to support a plebiscite.

“I would’ve preferred it go to a pleblicite,” he said. “It’s been such an emotional issue in the community and I had a number of people say I’d like a say in this.”

Robertson pointed out fluoridation was first brought in because of a plebiscite in 1989, but the results of the 1989 vote are not known. A 1998 referendum saw 1,442 people support keeping fluoride in water over 879 who didn’t.

Robertson said the Town could use the $8,700 it puts into fluoridation towards an oral health program.

However, he questions whether the proposed program will get off the ground and he won’t support the final bylaw to stop fluoridation without a program in place. He said Calgary hasn’t been able to create such a program since fluoride was removed from the city’s drinking water last year.

Coun. Stephen Clark also doesn’t think the Town should have to run a program, saying the Province already has existing programs that can help low-income families.

However, he has some concerns an Okotoks-specific program will never get off the ground.

Clark also spoke out against a plebiscite.

“If Alberta health can’t give us clear direction, the medical community can’t give us clear direction, I don’t know how our community can give us a clear direction,” he said.

Coun. Matt Rockley also opposed a plebiscite saying it could force the will of a possible slim majority on the town.

With strong opinions on both sides of the issue in town, he said it’s a tough decision for a councillor to make and it’s unfortunate the issue is left to laymen to decide.

“Here I am, a municipal councillor, I have no medical training , I have doctors on one side saying it’s good to put fluoride in water I have doctors on the other side saying it’s not good to put fluoride in water,” said Rockley.