Citizen group wants water fluoridation to be election issue in Calgary

A Calgary citizens group is working to make putting fluoride back in the city’s drinking water a civic election issue.

Calgarians voted to add fluoride to the city's water in 1989, council voted to remove it in 2011

Members of the group Calgarians For Kids Health speak to reporters on Monday. The group is hoping to make an election issue on the question of whether fluoride should be put back into the city's drinking supply. (Dave Will/CBC)

A Calgary citizens group is working to make putting fluoride back in the city's drinking water a civic election issue.

Members of Calgarians For Kids Health — which they say is made up of dental and pediatric specialists, along with everyday parents and grandparents — are asking candidates running in the Oct. 16 vote to pledge to re-introduce fluoride into the water supply should they be elected.

"From a non-scientific view, I have four-and-a-half year old and her teeth are falling out because she didn't get fluoride from the day she was born whereas other kids that have had fluoride, they have less dental problems," group member Carmen Davison, a mother of three, told reporters.

"You can see it, there are kids with more caps, more cavities, more crying in the dentist office and it's not fair to our children. It's not necessarily a socio-economic problem, it's about public health."

Fluoridation in Calgary was approved by plebiscite in 1989 with 53 per cent voting in favour. It began being added to the city's water in 1991 and was approved once again in a 1998 plebiscite.

Council then voted to remove it in 2011 after voting against holding yet another plebiscite in the 2013 municipal election.

The fluoridation of Calgary water has been debated in Calgary for decades. After voting against adding it three times between 1957 and 1971, Calgarians voted in favour of putting flouride in the drinking water in 1989. It was added in 1991 and was in the city's drinking water until city council decided to remove it six years ago. (CBC)

Fluoride remains in the water in Edmonton.

A study released last year found Grade 2 students in both Calgary and Edmonton had increasing rates of tooth decay, but they were higher in Calgary since fluoride was removed.

Council also rejected a motion to revisit the issue about a year ago, but "alarming" decay rates caused the group to bring it up once again, president Juliet Guichon told The Calgary Eyeopener earlier Monday.

"They are alarming dentists who have asked me to help make an issue of this during the municipal campaign," she said. "The [Alberta] Children's Hospital can't cope, there's a big ... waiting list for children to go under general anesthesia to deal with multiple cavities."

Other pressing issues

Despite the group's efforts, fluoride likely won't be top of mind for voters during the campaign, said MRU political scientist Lori Williams. 

"Issues about taxes, about transparency, accountability, the functioning of council, the economy in general, there are a lot of other things that are concerning Calgarians right now, and I'm not sure this is going to make it to the top of that list," she said.

A study released last year found Grade 2 students in both Calgary and Edmonton had increasing rates of tooth decay, but the they were higher in Calgary since fluoride was removed. (CBC)

Guichon noted fluoride is naturally occurring in drinking water at 0.1 to 0.4 parts per million and adding fluoride would bring it up to 0.7 ppm, according to Health Canada standards.

Council cited cost as the major reason for removing fluoride from tap water in 2011, noting the city spent about $750,000 a year to add it and about $6 million in upgrades were needed at the Bearspaw and Glenmore water-treatment plants to keep doing it.

With files from Dave Will and Colin Hall