In May 2014, city council was approached by Tiffany Giesbrecht who submitted 1,232 signatures asking the municipality to look into the health benefits of having fluoride in the city’s drinking water. The committee of the whole met on Oct. 23 to discuss the matter that would affect not only the city, but the service areas of the County of Grande Prairie (Clairmont, Wedgewood and some rural subdivisions east and west of Grande Prairie) and the Town of Sexsmith.
Water utility Aquatera serves about 72,000 customers and spends around $40,000 annually on fluoridation, including costs for regulatory analysis, equipment, lab work, and electrical and maintenance associated with fluoridation.
The fluoride used by Aquatera is hydrofluorosilicic acid, which is derived from industry. In its concentrated form, it’s corrosive. Aquatera’s employees dispense the chemical into the water where it is diluted to 0.87 micrograms per litre, which is within the acceptable range as directed by Alberta Heath.
Coun. Chris Thiessen noted the utility asked the city to consider ending fluoridation of water as it was a hazard to its employees and that the province no longer requires municipalities to fluoridate its water.
“Should we be involving ourselves in medicating the population? I think it’s a controversial topic, and by no means am I the authority or any of us, on what we should do in the nature of fluoridation, but because we are the controls of the water supply through Aquatera, we have the choice and the decision on whether or not we want to continue this practice, which is essentially medicating the population without their consent,” said Thiessen.
As the major shareholder in Aquatera, the city can decide to end fluoridation without the approval of the county or Sexsmith, according to Aquatera COO Jeff Johnston.
“If Aquatera receives direction to cease the addition of fluoride we would notify Alberta Environment as this situation is contemplated in our current operating approval,” he wrote in an email.
Given this, council decided to inform and include the other municipalities in the discussion.
Six Alberta municipalities have removed fluoride from their drinking water: Okotoks (2012); Slave Lake (2011); Taber (2011); Calgary (2011); Athabaska (2010); and Drayton Valley (2008). Nationally, 30 municipalities don’t use fluoride and only 45% of the country fluoridates its water, according to the Canadian Dental Association. Globally, about 24 countries use fluoride.
Coun. Dwight Logan thought that due to the complexity of the issue and the scientific nature of it, the city shouldn’t be making the decision on whether or not to take fluoride out of the water. He felt the province should be the authority to decide whether or not fluoride should be in the water. His sentiments were echoed by Coun. Rory Tarant. However, water falls under the directive of municipalities.
The committee voted to direct council to ask the mayor to get input from Alberta Health, the University of Calgary, Health Canada, the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, Environment Canada, on the use of hydrofluorosilicic acid in drinking water before the city makes its decision.