City council will decide next week whether to end the decade-long hiatus on fluoridation in Calgary’s drinking water.
After 62 per cent of the votes in this year’s municipal plebiscite on fluoridation favoured the practice, city officials have recommended that council approve its return. If council gives the go-ahead, the city will still have to retrofit two water treatment plants, and a report headed to council Monday estimates it could take up to two years to get everything operational.
This year’s fluoride vote was the seventh time Calgarians have weighed in on the question, with a Yes result in 1989 leading to the start of water fluoridation in 1991. Voters approved it again in 1998, but in 2011, city council voted to stop fluoridation.
Coun. Richard Pootmans was one of just three votes in opposition at the time. He said Friday he’s eager to restore water fluoridation as he returns to office this year after stepping down in 2017.
“We’ve had the public airing of the debate back and forth. It seems clear the public is ready to support this,” he said.
Council seems poised to agree: nearly everyone elected wrote in Postmedia’s candidate questionnaires ahead of the October vote that they are either in favour of fluoridation or that they plan to align their decision with the plebiscite results.
Coun. Andre Chabot didn’t give a definitive answer at the time, saying he would consider what voters decide and research “the most current scientific data” before making his own call. Coun. Peter Demong didn’t return his questionnaire.
Fluoride occurs naturally in the Bow and Elbow rivers at concentrations between 0.1 mg/L and 0.4 mg/L, but Health Canada recommends 0.7 mg/L as the optimal level for helping combat tooth decay. In Calgary, new equipment and two additional employees will be needed to maintain the right concentration, and the same compound that Calgary previously used to fluoridate the water will be used again.
Pootmans grew up with fluoridated water in Ottawa, and he said he has a first-hand understanding of its dental-health benefits.
“It’s more than just having tooth decay … If you have a runaway infection of your mouth and jaw bone as a child, it stays with you for a life of bad health.”
A majority of those who voted across all 14 of Calgary’s wards supported water fluoridation, ranging from a low of slightly less than 54 per cent in northeast Ward 10 to a high of 71 per cent in central Ward 8.
Juliet Guichon, a University of Calgary medical bioethicist, was at the helm of a third-party advertiser that advocated for Calgarians to vote Yes to fluoride. She said Friday they raised about $43,000 to support that work.
“Calgarians have told elected officials three times that they want community water fluoridation, so I expect that this newly elected council will this time follow the will of the people,” she said.
Reintroducing fluoride is estimated to cost $30.1 million, including immediate capital costs and operating costs over the next 20 years. Officials say that won’t require an increase in water utility rates.
Coun. Terry Wong said Friday he believes in respecting the decision voters made.
“At the end of the day, everything costs money. You have to take into account what the social and health-care outcomes are. And I believe the cost of not fluoridating truly outweighs the cost of equipment and installation.”
Coun. Kourtney Penner said she was clear during her campaign that she is pro-fluoridation, but she will wait to hear the presentation and debate at council before making a final call.
“Now sitting in this chair, I have to be mindful that there is a responsibility, always, to do the extra due diligence.”
City council will start the first combined meeting of the new term on Monday.
*Original article online at https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/city-council-to-vote-on-future-of-water-fluoridation-next-week