On June 26 the town of Drayton Valley officially shut off the fluoride tap in our water treatment plant. There are no plans to turn it back on until the town has done sufficient research into whether fluoridation is harmful or beneficial to residents.

Bernie Berube, senior plant operator for the water treatment plant in town, is happy that it has been shut off. Berube and his fellow operators brought their concerns to town management after about six years of talking about the potential health risks for the workers.

Fluoride was added to our water system in 1966 as a way of preventing tooth decay. A small amount of fluoride exists in our water naturally, however, the chemical that is added to the water is not the same. Typically it is hexafluorosilicic acid which is added to the water.

There is also a small amount of chlorine added to our water and Berube says the chlorine is a necessity, explaining it is chlorine that makes the difference between Third World water and ours.

Berube says hexafluorosilicic acid is a very strong acid and can be very harmful if ingested. Berube also says the fumes from the acid etches the glass, paint and computer screens of the water treatment plant. With the water treatment plant not having the proper facilities to handle this acid, let alone test its level in the water, Berube is very concerned for the operators in his plant as well as the people drinking the water. Berube feels the health risks of adding fluoride to the water far out-weigh the benefits.

Donna Thompson, manager of public health, health promotion and prevention for the David Thompson Health Region, says that all municipalities across Canada adhere to strict guidelines from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Thompson goes on to explain that every municipality has a limit of 1.5 parts per million of fluoride in their water, which includes the natural level of fluoride in the water.

Thompson says that throughout a human life the body needs regular low doses of fluoride in order to remineralize teeth, and water fluoridation is the most cost effective way to administer that dose.
Berube points out that with fluoridation there is no way to control the amount of water that is consumed on a day to day basis. It can be assumed a person will drink up to eight glasses of water a day, but that may increase or decrease depending on various situations. Berube also says that fluoride is a heavy metal, and just like mercury it builds up in our system and stays there.

Thompson disagrees saying that the body only uses fluoride topically, meaning that it is only used to remineralize teeth. Any extra fluoride is sloughed off by the body as a waste product.

Concern for the environment is also part of Berube’s motivation. He says that approximately 88 per cent of water that is fluoridated makes it back into the river. The fish and animals that live in the water or drink from it are being exposed to the fluoride and it builds up in the food chain.

At the plant, Berube has stacks of reports and studies on the effects of fluoridation and says that some of the risks are a big concern. Berube says that several major diseases such as Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, kidney and liver disease and cancer, can be caused by excess exposure to fluoride.

“We are monitoring research in this area all the time,” said Thompson. Thompson further explained the DTHR does not have any studies that show harmful effects from fluoride at the low dose that is administered through the water.

Berube also has concerns about fluoridated water being used for showering, bathing or even swimming in because fluoride can be absorbed through the skin, adding even more dangers to our system.

He also added that it would save the town money to eliminate the process and speed up the actual treatment of the water. Including labour, meters, probes and actual costs of the product the town could save anywhere between $20,000 to $25,000 a year if fluoridation was removed from the water treatment plant.

Berube says that the plant and off-site laboratories have a very difficult time getting consistent results when testing the water for the level of fluoride, so the town, if it decides to continue its fluoridation, will have to invest money into the plant to insure the safety of town residents and operators working at the plant.

Berube said that in the end it all comes down to people not having a choice about what they are drinking. “People shouldn’t be forced to consume something they don’t need.”