A Fulbright Scholar from Penn State who’s visiting the University of Lethbridge says it’s OK to feel good about the city’s drinking water which is purified using state-of-the-art technology and residents need not worry about fluoridation.
Fluoridation has come up in recent months as a topic of public debate, arising as an election issue this fall, and then brought before city council even more recently. But fluoride doesn’t concern Dr. Yuefeng Xie, who said he believes it’s safe at present levels.
“And the reason is because fluoride is needed to protect the teeth. So if we don’t get it from drinking water, we would need to get it from a doctor, through a pill or a gel. Also, we have fluoride in a much higher concentration in toothpaste,” he said Thursday. “The medical field does feel there’s a need to have fluoride, but the question is where should we be getting it. I think that is the argument.”
Xie’s greatest concern is water loaded with contaminants heading back into the river once it goes down the drain.
Many anti-bacterial products widely used in Canadian homes contain a chemical called triclosan a germ-killer in use since the 1970s found in soaps and deodorants, toothpastes, shaving creams, mouthwashes and cleaning supplies. More recently, triclosan’s been embedded into products like kitchen tools, some toys, bed sheets, clothing and even garbage bags.
He said old-fashioned cleaning products like bleach aren’t great things to flush down drains, but they concern him less than new types of disinfectants.
“When you use chlorines, that will go downstream because it will be discharged (into the river),” Xie said. “But chlorine generally is not a big concern. When you use these soaps with triclosan, that compound will be discharged into the wastewater, and then you may have more bacteria become resistant to these chemicals. And also you might have a byproduct that is an endocrine disrupter.”
Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that mimic hormones in the human body, most often estrogen. They get into drinking water in a number of ways. When women take birth control pills or hormone-replacement therapy, some of the hormones are excreted in the urine. Even the newest water-treatment technology cannot remove these substances. As a consequence, all drinking water has traces of these chemicals as well as anti-depressants, cardiac medications, antibiotics and more but just how much depends on the water source. Folks downstream of major cities will have more endocrine disruptors in their water.
Flushing medicines down the toilet should be taboo, said Xie. Far better to take the time to return unwanted or expired medications to a pharmacy so they can be properly disposed of.
Xie is a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the U of L, who’s studying the effects of climate change on river systems while he’s here. He received his BSc, MS and PhD degrees from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.