Alberta’s health superboard has launched a last-ditch attempt to keep Calgary’s water treated with fluoride, urging Alberta Environment to reject the proposed change to the city’s water -treatment licence.
Although council voted overwhelmingly in February to end fluoridation, the change can’t occur until the provincial government changes terms of Calgary’s water operating licence.
The province is reviewing protest comments from Alberta Health Services and two other groups or individuals.
They could delay or nix the city’s plans, but even Dr. Richard Musto of Alberta Health Services isn’t sure whether the ministry will find that Calgarians’ dental health qualifies as an environmental concern.
“That question might be key to whether Alberta Environment even entertains our statement of concern,” said Musto, the board’s Calgary-based medical officer of health.
In his pitch for AHS standing as an affected party to the water treatment change, Musto reasoned that human health is very much a part of the “environmental health.”
“We want a safe environment for the living creatures within it -the birds and the bees and the plants, and, by the way, the humans,” he said.
“Clearly it’s a different ministry than Alberta Health and Wellness, but all of the ministries need to work in concert so we provide the most safe and healthful environment that we can.”
Musto and other health or dental experts urged council at a public hearing to believe the vast majority of studies, which argue that fluoride treatment prevents cavities and other dental problems.
But aldermen sided with the concerns of several Calgarians that fluoridation poses adverse health risks and serves as unethical mass medication of an unwilling public.
Calgary’s amendment to its Water Operating Approval was published in mid-March, and the ministry received three comments during a 30-day period that ended Sunday, said Carrie Sancartier of Alberta Environment.
The ministry will forward any concerns it deems valid to the city to address, the spokeswoman said.
The city hasn’t yet viewed the comments itself but is somewhat puzzled that Alberta Health Services sent one in.
“I imagine Alberta Environment will look at it as an environmental issue,” said Wolf Keller, director of water resources for the city.
“There’s no impact really we know of on the water course or the water environment. So they’re going to be at a bit of a loss as to what to do with a concern from the health angle.”
Musto said he’s just doing what AHS can under the process, and he’s not sure if any public-health official has tried this before when other Alberta municipalities voted to scrap fluoride. Failing this, a 2013 plebiscite could reverse council’s anti-fluoridation position, he added.
The city had planned to formally end the era of fluoridation with a bylaw change May 9. It’s unclear whether the latest turn will delay the schedule.
Ald. Druh Farrell, who rallied her colleagues on the anti-fluoridation vote, said the AHS protest is just part of the process the city must wait through.
She’s heard from many Calgarians who strongly opposed fluoridation, and have now reverted to drinking tap water again, unaware the chemical is still being added into the water supply.
“They react with concern and surprise. They thought it was simple,” she said.
Once the city stops fluoridation, it will take days or weeks for the treated water to work its way through the city’s pipes and taps, Keller said.
City water naturally has 0.2 or 0.3 parts per million of fluoride. At treatment plants, staff add enough to make it 0.7 parts per million, which Health Canada and others deem a safe and effective way to improve public health.