CALGARY – It’s been talked about plenty, debated in the pages of newspapers, and discussed over the airwaves and online, with opinions often split between keep it, ditch it and I don’t care.
Today comes the first big event of Calgary’s latest debate over whether the city should be adding fluoride to the drinking water – something it’s done since 1991.
A council committee will hear from the public on the issue, with chair Ald. Ray Jones predicting a long day involving at least 100 submissions.
So high is the expected interest that the hearing of the standing policy committee on utilities and environment, normally held in the Engineering Traditions Room, will be conducted instead in the much larger council chambers.
“The people I really want to hear from are the experts – the pros and cons of why it should or shouldn’t be in the water,” Jones said.
The whole issue stems from a motion put forward to council earlier this month by Ald. Druh Farrell. She wants fluoride out of Calgary’s water, and nine of her colleagues put their names to the motion in support.
It’s clearly an uphill battle that Dr. Richard Musto, the chief medical officer of health for the Calgary Region, will face when he and others from Alberta Health Services go before the committee.
Musto argues the evidence shows fluoride is safe and beneficial when put in drinking water at low amounts, and a cost-effective way to improve oral health.
“It shouldn’t be framed as a divisive we/they kind of thing,” he said of the debate. “Here’s an issue that, as a society, we need to make a decision on. Municipal government plays its role, and we as a health authority play its role.”
Also a key question is whether the decision should go to plebiscite, given it was the citizens of Calgary who voted to add fluoride to the water back in 1989.
Jones said he’ll consider that option if there seems to be consensus from both sides that a plebiscite is the way to go.
The debate is not just a Calgary one. Next month, Lethbridge will hear from the public about the fluoridation of their water.
And in Waterloo, Ont., residents voted by the tiniest of margins last fall to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water there.
About three-quarters of Alberta’s population have fluoridated water, compared to 45 per cent nationally. In British Columbia, less than four per cent have fluoride in the water, according to 2007 Health Canada numbers.
Those against fluoride being added to the water say it is ineffective, unhealthy and unethical. One of those is James Beck, a professor emeritus of medical biophysics at the University of Calgary.
“When you talk to a proponent, they tell you it’s safe and effective, four or five times, and they won’t give you any evidence for that,” said Beck, who has co-authored an anti-fluoride book.
“And the problem for city council members, for example, is some guy walks in off the street like me, and says this is bad, and they have all these professional organizations saying it’s wonderful, and Alberta Health Service saying it’s wonderful, so it’s very difficult to get them to listen.”
But his views don’t jibe with those of at least one local general dentist. Dr. Bryce Adamson won’t see patients today as he plans to head to council to voice his support for fluoride.
If council were to eliminate the additive from drinking water, it would be children who suffer, he said. Two- and three-year-olds would get more cavities, he warns, and they would be more severe.
Damage would stretch more often to nerves, and the dental care system in Calgary would face more strain, he said.
“Childhood decay is only increasing since I’ve become a dentist, it hasn’t decreased,” said Adamson, who is the past president of the Calgary and District Dental Society. “Our diets are terrible, so we need everything we can to help work against this.”
There are some on council who are adamantly opposed to fluoridation, and likely won’t be swayed by any argument.
But Jones said there are some willing to listen, and that includes himself. The alderman is opposed to fluoride in the water, noting his father was told he could not drink from the tap because of the additive.
With files from Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald
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