Calgary removing fluoride from water supply

Calgary city council has voted 10-3 to remove fluoride from the city's drinking water.
City council's decision to to remove fluoride from Calgary's water supply follows years of debate on the subject.

Calgary city council has voted 10-3 to remove fluoride from the city's drinking water.

Two members of council, Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Brian Pincott, were out of town during Tuesday's vote.

Earlier in the day, city council considered and rejected by a vote of 8-5 putting the fluoride issue to a plebiscite in the 2013 municipal election.

Council also rejected referring the matter to an expert panel.

The issue has proved a lightning rod for Calgarians, and past plebiscites have revealed public opinion is almost evenly split on the matter.

In 1989, 53 per cent of Calgarians voted in favour of adding fluoride. Two years later, it was added.

Savings will go to dental health

After a well-attended, all-day public meeting late last month, the removal of the chemical was recommended to council by a city committee.


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Proponents of fluoride say it prevents tooth decay, especially in vulnerable groups such as the poor, children and the elderly.

Dr. Richard Musto, Calgary's medical officer of health, said he was disappointed with council's decision.

"On the other hand, to move forward now, part of the motion included establishing a stakeholder group to look at measures to deliver dental preventive therapy to young children, and we'll expect fully to be part of that," he said.

On Tuesday, council also supported using some of the savings from removing fluoride to examine ways of improving dental health for children living in poverty.

'It's not our responsibility.' — Ald. Druh Farrell

Dr. Russ Sawa, who treats patients at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, said he's worried about how the decision will affect homeless people.

"I just think of the expense were going to have down the road with tooth decay," Sawa said. "And if in this present circumstance, if we still see some horrendous tooth decay, some horrendous problems, what's it going to be like without this?"

Opponents question the safety of fluoride in drinking water and suggest it should be up to individuals to decide whether to expose themselves to the additive.

Ald. Druh Farrell, who led the anti-fluoride charge, said helping families who can't afford fluoridated toothpaste is a better idea than medicating the entire population.

"It's not our responsibility, but what we've said is because we had this responsibility and because children in poverty are used as a reason to support fluoride, then let's really help those children," she said.

City faced costly plant upgrades

Ald. Jim Stevenson said there's insufficient medical proof that keeping fluoride in the water has any benefit.

"We as a council have to show some leadership here. We have no right to force this right on all Calgarians. I would really question our right to put it in, but. … I don't question at all our right to remove it."

The timeline for the removal of fluoride remains unclear, as the city must apply to Alberta Environment to amend its water licence.

The city should also save money with the move. The cost of adding fluoride to Calgary's water is about $750,000 per year.

The city was also facing $6-million upgrades to the Bearspaw and Glenmore water-treatment plants needed for the fluoridation process in the near future.