Starting next week the entire chemical system at Saskatoon’s water treatment plant will be replaced, according to plant manager Troy LaFreniere.
Use of fluoride has become an issue in many Canadian cities. Last fall, residents of Waterloo, Ont., voted to stop using the chemical. The issue will be going in front of Lethbridge city council later this year.
Rosthern, located 70 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, stopped using fluoride in 2006 after a campaign by their mayor, Doug Knoll.
Saskatoon has been fluoridating water since the 1950s, according to LaFreniere. It currently costs the city about $150,000 a year in maintenance and chemical costs. This does not include the cost of the renovation.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that in communities with a population of more than 20,000, every $1 spent fluoridating results in $38 savings in dental treatment costs. In 1999, they named fluoridation as one of the top 10 achievements in U.S. public health in the 20th century.
In 2007, Health Canada released a review of health effects of fluoride in drinking water, which stated that community water fluoridation was a safe and effective public health method for the reduction of dental issues.
The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) supports fluoridating water, but states the decision to do so should be based on an assessment of need.
“The economic issue depends on how much tooth decay was in the community,” said Dr. Euan Swan of the CDA.
“The decision is a local one. It’s a value judgment by citizens and councillors,” he said.
Fluoride has yet to become a major issue in Saskatoon. Mayor Don Atchison acknowledged that city council has received some letters, but added there is no reason to review the matter at this time.
“Where we’re at right now is where we need to be,” he said, citing Health Canada’s support of the practice.
Opponents of fluoridation in Saskatoon are starting to organize. Daeran Gall posted a petition online and said that in recent weeks several local groups have started meeting to co-ordinate their efforts.
“We’re trying to build a movement,” he said.
According to Gall, fluoridating water forces the population to take medicine regardless of their wishes.
“It violates your right to medical determination,” he said.
Gall said if the public was better educated on fluoride there would be much more opposition.
“This is not a benign substance,” he said. Concentrated fluoride is toxic to humans.
One of the common arguments against fluoridation is that other products like toothpaste provide what fluoride is needed. Gall pointed out that food and beverages made with fluoridated water will contain the substance. He said that having it in the drinking water as well can lead to overexposure.
“You’re already getting enough fluoride from your toothpaste,” said Gall. Toothpaste did not contain fluoride in the 1950s, when fluoridation became popular throughout North America.
According to Gall, it can be difficult to be taken seriously because fluoridation is a popular topic among conspiracy theorists, who link it to mind control and Nazi experiments, among other things.
“One of the reasons we tried to start these meetings was to separate ourselves from these people. We don’t need to look for a conspiracy. We’ve got a lot of hard science,” he said.
Saskatoon Coun. Darren Hill said the issue is worth consideration.
“I myself personally feel that it should be reviewed. There are now products that consumers can buy at the drug store that provide fluoride,” said Hill. He added that council would need to hear more from the community before such a review would occur.
According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, less than 37 per cent of the province’s population has access to water with “sufficient levels of fluoride.”
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