Council voted 13-2 in favour of resuming water fluoridation, with only councillors Andre Chabot and Dan McLean against

City council voted Monday to restore fluoride to Calgary’s water supply, reversing course on a controversial decade-old decision to discontinue the practice which is widely acknowledged to prevent tooth decay.

It will cost approximately $10 million to reintroduce water fluoridation and the process could take 18 to 24 months to complete, according to city estimates provided at Monday’s meeting. Annual operating and maintenance costs are estimated to be about $1 million over the next 20 years.

Coun. Richard Pootmans — who was one of three city councillors opposed to the move in 2011 to discontinue fluoridation — said he was glad to finally have closure on the issue.

“(I’m) sad for a lot of children who have suffered in the meantime, but we made the right decision today,” Pootmans said following the vote at city hall.

Pootmans and other proponents of fluoridation have repeatedly pointed to local trends in tooth decay and a dramatic increase in the number of children being treated for dental infections at the Alberta Children’s Hospital since 2011 as proof that removing fluoride was a mistake.

“That’s a lot of damage in our society, a lot of damage to kids’ health,” he said.

Council voted 13-2 in favour of resuming water fluoridation, with only councillors Andre Chabot and Dan McLean against.

The decision comes on the heels of a municipal plebiscite that saw Calgarians vote 62 per cent in favour of fluoride.

October’s plebiscite on fluoride was the seventh time Calgarians have weighed in on the question. Fluoride was first introduced to the city’s water supply following a plebiscite in 1989 and voters approved it again in 1998.

But in 2011, city council voted to stop fluoridation. At the time, Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra voted with the majority in favour of discontinuing the practice. At Monday’s meeting he reversed course and voted to reintroduce fluoride, arguing the municipal plebiscite provided “clear direction” from Calgarians.

A majority of those who voted in all 14 of Calgary’s wards supported water fluoridation, ranging from slightly less than 54 per cent in Ward 10 to a high of 71 per cent in Ward 8.

Though he voted in favour, Carra said he continues to believe the matter should fall to the province: “I don’t believe this is our responsibility. I believe it is a provincial responsibility. It is health care, straight up.”

Chabot tried unsuccessfully to persuade his council colleagues Monday to refer the matter to committee for further study. He told reporters that he plans to purchase a specialized filter for his home once fluoride is reintroduced.“I don’t think it’s right for us to impose any kind of medication, mass medication, through what is considered to be a necessity of life,” he said.

Campaigners and experts who have been pushing for the resumption of water fluoridation in Calgary celebrated Monday’s vote, but some say it’s just a matter of time before fluoride is challenged again, unless there is more robust advocacy from provincial health authorities.

Juliet Guichon, a University of Calgary medical bioethicist who led the pro-fluoride campaign during the municipal election, said it is inevitable that fluoridation will be challenged again: “I’d just ask everybody to focus on children, other vulnerable people and Calgarians, and work together to get this done — and to defend it.”

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