EDMONTON – An ongoing North American shortage of fluoride is forcing Epcor to reduce levels in the Edmonton region’s treated drinking water.
Company officials insist the move is temporary, and will have no impact on the dental health of the public, which has been tapping into the reported benefits of the enamel-protecting compound for 40 years now.
“Fluoride offers long-term dental health benefits, and this is a short-term reduction,” said Epcor spokesman Mike Gibbs.
Gibbs said suppliers have decided to cut back shipments by 25 per cent overall to address the months-long shortage of the chemical, but the utility still expects to receive its regular supply.
“We’ve just decided to conserve what we’re getting,” said Gibbs.
Fluoride is a byproduct of phosphate mining that’s added to water by many municipalities across the United States and Canada to prevent tooth decay. It has its detractors, too, who say its use is not only unnecessary but harmful.
Still, it has soared in price and dwindled in supply.
The shortage in the U.S. has been attributed to damage sustained by Gulf Coast manufacturing facilities during hurricane Katrina two years ago, and to a downturn in the phosphate mining industry.
The Edmonton region started treating its water in 1967, following a plebiscite on the issue.
Epcor normally adds 0.8 parts of fluoride per one million parts of water, but plans to reduce that level to between 0.5 and 0.6.
“We’ll likely be running at those reduced levels for several months, but we’ll continue to monitor the situation,” said Gibbs.
The region’s medical health officer Dr. Gerry Predy said the reduction isn’t a significant one and will still offer a “fair degree” of protection when used with other sources, like toothpaste and fluoride treatments from the dentist.
He said younger children are the most likely to be affected over the long term simply because they haven’t had the same period of fluoride intake.
“We don’t anticipate (the reduced levels) to last more than three or four months, but it’s hard to predict,” said Predy.
“If it drags on any longer than that, the more likely it is to have an impact on younger children.”
Gibbs also said Epcor plans to suspend the addition of fluoride at its E.L. Smith water treatment plant beginning in mid-November for two months, which is part of a planned upgrade and is unrelated to the shortage.
Even so, it will have some effect on the overall fluoride levels of the region’s drinking water, which comes from E.L. Smith and Rossdale.
“The levels will be variable for those two months because of the distribution flow (from the two plants),” said Gibbs. “Likely anywhere between 0.1 to 0.6.”