Alberta Environment has been thrust into the awkward position of refereeing a public-health debate on the future of Calgary’s fluoridation program.
The provincial department received four responses to the city’s application to amend its watertreatment agreement to reflect city council’s anti-fluoridation vote.
All four are from dentists or doctors, who make their appeal not on strict environmental principles but out of concern for the future of dental health -and what one Calgary dentist called the “appalling” way council made its decision.
“I’m old enough to remember what kids’ teeth looked like before fluoride was put in the water,” said Dr. Robert Barsky, one of the four letter writers and a pediatric dentistry specialist who helped with the 1989 plebiscite to bring in the water additive.
His letter takes aim at council’s rejection of offers for a University of Calgary evidence-based review on the thorny issue.
Fellow dentist Dr. Robert Meloff’s statement of concern has some identical language, bemoaning council’s 10-3 vote and rejection of another proposed plebiscite.
“City councillors made their decision seemingly on personal bias rather than with the proper information or on what their constituents want,” Meloff’s letter says.
The other two statements come from Alberta Health Services and a University of Calgary family medicine professor, who argues that the arguments made against fluoridation “were a travesty of science.”
City officials had hoped to have the review period done in time for council to formally authorize the end of fluoridation by May 9.
Alberta Environment has no timeline for finishing up its review of whether any statements of concern have merit and should be addressed, a spokeswoman said.
The doctors themselves, including Barsky, admit they’re unsure whether Alberta Environment has power to consider the public-health issue.
“Does your mandate include protecting the health of the general public?” Barsky asks in his letter.
It’s an odd question for the department to have to consider, said Joe Obad of Water Matters.
As an environmental issue, he suggested the department could view the removal of a fluoride compound as neutral to the water system. After all, Alberta’s water treatment facilities variously add fluoride or don’t.
“Alberta Environment tends to look at how close the outflow is to the product (taken in),” said Obad, associate director for the watershed protection group.
In this case, keeping water at its natural fluoride levels of 0.2 or 0.3 milligrams per litre would be less invasive than treating water at 0.7 mg/L.