The failure of the political push to re-introduce fluoride into Calgary tap water should renew pressure on Lethbridge City Council to terminate forced fluoridation here.
Recently Calgary City Council voted nine to five against a notice of motion that would have re-opened the fluoridation debate. The majority of city councillors did not buy the extravagant claims being pushed based on the findings of a very limited study of cavity rates in Calgary and Edmonton.
This welcome decision constitutes a strong re-affirmation of the continuing force of the vote that in 2011 saw 10 city councilors opt to remove hydrofluorosilicic acid from Calgary’s communal water supply. This result culminated a 20-year campaign led by schoolteacher Fay Ash. She fought forced fluoridation in Calgary since its introduction in 1991.
Ms. Ash brought many Albertans into an international network of research and activism that has identified the injection of a notorious industrial pollutant into tap water as a liability rather than an asset for public health. The effects of forced fluoridation have harmful impacts on brains, bones, kidneys and thyroids. As asserted by Dr. Hardy Limebeck when he was head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto, “it is illogical to assume that tooth enamel is the only tissue affected by low daily doses of fluoride ingestion.”
Fluoridation’s oral disfigurations have profited those dentists that have made lucrative businesses of cosmetically covering over the damage. Rather than pretending forced fluoridation is an insurance policy for disadvantaged youth, surely it’s time the privatized dental profession make an accommodation with Canada’s system of public health care.
Fay Ash was joined in her public health advocacy by Dr. James Beck, currently professor emeritus of medical biophysics at the University of Calgary. In the words of Lethbridge Herald reporter Nick Kuhl, Dr. Beck was “the principal witness for the committee that recommended Calgary City Council end fluoridation.”
A long-serving faculty member of the U of C’s medical school, Dr. Beck is a co-author of the 2010 book, “The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There.”
Drawing on their success in helping to end forced fluoridation in Calgary, Dr. Beck and Ms. Ash both spoke in Lethbridge in the spring of 2013. Looking back, Ms. Ash remembered a time when no city councillor attending any public gathering in Calgary could avoid the question, “When are you going to get the poison out of our water?”
In Lethbridge Ms. Ash asserted, “The major issue here is ethics. Medical ethics.” She referred to the forced fluoridation as “out-dated and unethical,” a formula for “disease and harm.” The front-page report in the Lethbridge Herald ran under the headline, “People should have a choice.”
This simple observation highlights that forced fluoridation imposes a controversial chemical into communal water supplies without the personal consent of those on the receiving end. Individuals are denied the right to choose what they ingest orally and also through their skin while bathing. Forced fluoridation makes no provision for case-by-case administration of a substance that many see with good reason as a dangerous toxin. Developing fetuses, babies and those that may have allergies to fluorine compounds all get the same treatment. How can public health officials justify the mass application of a medical procedure without any monitoring whatsoever of its specific effects on different individuals?
Dr. Beck’s contribution to the Lethbridge fluoride debate highlighted “safety, efficacy and ethics.” Most jurisdictions in Europe, he explained, do not impose forced fluoridation on their citizens. Nevertheless, national populations on both sides of the Atlantic show similar propensities. A survey of 18 countries, four of them fluoridated and 14 of them not, all showed decreasing numbers of cavities “at the same rateÉ there was no difference.”
The renowned practitioner, teacher and researcher of medicine in Alberta cited the results of many studies showing lower IQ rates in fluoridated children together with negative effects on thyroids, hip fractures, and reproductive health. “People do suffer because of these effects,” he said. Forced fluoridation “has got to be stopped.”
Dr. Beck emphasized the precautionary principle. The onus of proof lies with forced fluoridation’s proponents to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that adding hydrofluorosilicic acid to public drinking water has no harmful effects whatsoever. Dr. Beck asserted that this basic test has never been met.
In April 2011, Lethbridge City Council voted to retain water fluoridation by a margin of five to four. The decision to add the chemical to Lethbridge water goes back to a plebiscite in 1974. The vote just squeaked through with a plurality of one quarter of one per cent more than the required one-half of those that voting. Plebiscites in 1957, 1961 and 1967 all failed. Then a change in provincial law lowered the electoral bar to open the way for forced fluoridation.
When she spoke in 2013, Ms. Ash underlined the problematic nature of deciding public health issues by plebiscite. She was right. It is time that Lethbridge City Council simply follow the progressive lead shown by the Calgary municipal government.
There are a number of ways to make fluoridation available in many formats for those who want it. There is no real justification, however, to force fluoridation on those of us who have plenty of good reasons to see the addition of a toxic industrial byproduct into our communal water supply as a health hazard.
It’s not good enough to tell constituents to “just take fluoride out.” It is expensive and difficult to take fluoride out of drinking and bathing water. Its very easy to add it. This prolonged controversy must be brought to an end. We, the citizens of Lethbridge, all have a right to choose for ourselves.
Tony Hall is Professor of Liberal Education and Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge