A movement to remove fluoride from Calgary’s drinking water supply has a majority of city council behind it, the Herald has learned.
The question over fluoridation of tap water has been subject to council verdicts and plebiscites repeatedly over the past five decades, including a decisive 1989 vote that finally saw the additive put into city water two years later.
Ald. Druh Farrell says her motion to scrap fluoride treatment – which will go to council Monday – has the support of at least eight other aldermen on the 15-member council.
“I think it’s inevitable,” said Farrell, whose similar bid before the last election narrowly lost.
“There are so many other ways to get fluoride, putting it in the water system no longer seems prudent.”
If council votes in favour of the motion, the decision would not need to go to plebiscite, but would still require Alberta Environment approval.
The debate has long stirred back-and-forth passionate arguments from the medical community and anti-fluoride activists.
The Canadian Dental Association and health ministries and organizations across the country have repeatedly determined that it helps prevent tooth decay.
They’ve refuted accusations that exposure at the low levels in the water supply causes adverse health effects, such as weakened bones or cancer.
Calgary’s water supply is treated with 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per litre, a level lowered from one milligram in 1998 based on an experts’ panel.
Agencies continue to review literature that argue various problems are caused by fluoridation, said Kim McDonald of the Alberta Dental Association and College.
“We haven’t been presented with any (convincing) evidence to that effect,” she said.
Helen Carsted was with the group Calgarians for Choice during the failed anti-fluoride plebiscite of 1998, but hasn’t touched the issue much since then. Nor has she put her lips to tap water, concerned that fluoride makes bones brittle and doesn’t totally leave one’s system.
“Isn’t that amazing,” she said when told there’s strong council backing now for her cause. “What a difference an election makes.”
Seventy-five per cent of Albertans live in places with fluoride in the water system, including residents of Edmonton and Calgary, according to Health Canada’s office of the chief dental officer.
But with communities in British Columbia and Quebec largely opting out, most Canadians don’t have fluoridated water.
It’s a personal issue for Ald. Ray Jones, who said a doctor once ordered his then-ailing father’s to stay away from city water.
“It shows that it’s not good for everybody, so we shouldn’t be giving it to everybody,” he said.
It’s coming up now, in part, because Calgary will soon need to spend millions to upgrade its fluoridation system, and some members would rather forgo that expense and the $750,000 annual cost of adding the compound.
“It’s not a large amount of money, and not the main reason we’re doing it,” said Farrell. She also questions the ethics of medicating the entire population via water supply, especially given some people’s fears that fluoride is harmful.
The proposal council will debate Monday is expected to include a suggestion that authorities spend instead on offering fluoride tablets to lower-income Calgarians.
Ald. Gord Lowe is one of the three remaining aldermen with a history of voting against anti-fluoride movements, and he’s disappointed to apparently be in the minority this time.
“I’ve raised a bunch of kids on fluoridated water, and their teeth are fine and dental bills weren’t too high,” he said.
Lowe, along with rookie Ald. Gael MacLeod, argue that it’s inappropriate for council to make this call unilaterally.
“The decision was made by plebiscite, and I feel uncomfortable deciding on it myself without sending it before the people,” she said.
There were also plebiscites in 1971, 1966, 1961 and 1957. The 1989 plebiscite saw 53 per cent of voters favouring the additive, and it was endorsed nine years later by 55 per cent of the public.
Support On Council
Aldermen expected to vote to remove fluoride Monday:
– Ald. Gian-Carlo Carra
– Ald. John Mar
– Ald. Brian Pincott
– Ald. Druh Farrell
– Ald. Ray Jones
– Ald. Jim Stevenson
– Ald. Peter Demong
– Ald. Andre Chabot
– Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart
– Ald. Shane Keating
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