Fairview may be looking at rinsing out the fluoride in their water.
The town of over 3,000 about 115 km north of Grande Prairie is looking at holding a plebiscite this fall to stop water fluoridation.
“Maybe the time has come after 50 years that we should take a look at it again whether we should keep it in or not,” said Gary Leathem, the town’s superintendent of public works.
Fairview was one of the first towns in Alberta to put fluoride in their water back in 1957 as a means to prevent tooth decay. Back then, 92 per cent of the town voted to fluoridate their water, especially as their supply came from a series of lakes and water quality was a concern.
Today, the town’s water comes from the Peace River and is treated through a Level 3 water plant.
Water fluoridation is an issue that comes up every now and then with some town residents, said Mayor Jean Charchuk.
“There are people who don’t want fluoride in our water. They’re generally the ones who bring it back to our attention. They generally have one more thing to add why we shouldn’t.”
While conventional wisdom is that fluoride in the water prevents tooth decay and is a practice supported by health professionals, there have been reports citing problems such as fluoride causing increases in hip and bone fractures and other problems. Some have also questioned the effectiveness of water fluoridation in tooth decay prevention.
With residents bringing up the issue armed with more and more facts, Leathem decided it was time to ascertain the public’s opinion.
“It’s been tossed around for years. I’ve heard it from different people for years and I just thought I’d throw it towards council and say there’s a concern out there.”
Aquatera also puts fluoride into Grande Prairie’s drinking water and so far general manager Bernd Manz says it hasn’t caused any ripples.
“It hasn’t become an issue locally that I’m aware of.”
The only concern he has is making sure his workers are safe. As fluoride is a chemical and is poisonous in large doses, water workers have to be prepared for the work.
“We use several chemicals in our treatment process, so we have procedures and safety measures to ensure that we minimize the risk,” said Manz.
Alberta Environment regulates that water companies keep fluoride at a level of 0.8 ppm with allowable variances of plus or minus 0.1 ppm. More than 0.9 ppm and problems can begin to occur. For instance, Ontario Health says too much fluoride for young kids may lead them to develop fluorosis, which causes white spots on the teeth.
There are so many products with fluoride today that many people get their dose of fluoride elsewhere than water.
“I’m kind of wishy-washy on this subject because I have fluoride toothpaste, I have fluoride this, fluoride that,” said Charchuk.
She added that low-income people may not get products with fluoride in them but tap water goes to everyone.
There are other issues at stake in water fluoridation than just health. In order to put fluoride in the water a treatment plant must be at a Level 3.
For a town like Fairview, it’s difficult to attract Level 3 water plant operators, so downgrading to a Level 2 might be beneficial.
It could also save money as ongoing tests for the level of fluoride in the water is expensive, said Charchuk.
There’s also an environmental problem. Fairview has no way of taking the fluoride out of water returning to the Peace River. Alberta Environment tests have shown just minute quantities of fluoride in the river but the levels are rising. It’s unclear what effect that has on the environment.
So far, Leathem has seen support in the community for water fluoridation being about 50/50.
The town council will meet later in the year to decide if the issue should go to a plebiscite or not. If it does, the aim would be to make it part of the fall general election.
Leathem was unaware of any community in Alberta that has turned back on water fluoridation once it started, although several countries and communities around the world have banned the practice including Germany and Japan.
In Grande Prairie, as water fluoridation came in by plebiscite it would also have to be removed by plebiscite.