Public Values

Calgary possibly to stop adding fluoride to public water supply

Committee votes 5-1 against fluoride despite proven dental benefits.

Skeptics of fluoride cite health concerns; supporters cite dental Straight Goods News staff

Calgary, AB (January 27, 2011): The city of Calgary may soon stop adding fluoride to its municipal drinking water. After a public hearing last Wednesday, members of the Utilities and Environment committee voted 5-1 against continuing to add fluoride to the city's water supply.

Alderman John Mar supports ceasing the addition of fluoride to the municipal water supply on financial grounds. "If this is so important to Alberta Health Services, then they should be funding it, not the City of Calgary," said Mar. "It's costing us $750,000 per year as an operational expense."

Most people who spoke at the hearing called for stopping the practice of adding fluoride to the city's water supply even though medical practitioners who spoke before the committee warned against it.

  "As a Calgarian in a free society, I should be able to make the decision on how to approach my health and the health of my family," said Michelle Robinson at the hearing.

Former dental assistant Colleen Cran said she and her family have been drinking bottled water for years, ever since her son suffered from dental fluorosis (staining or pitting of the teeth caused by the ingestion of too much fluoride).

"It's an industrial waste by-product and we've been sold on the story that it reduces tooth decay in children," she said.

"If fluoridation is wanted [by some people], there are other options rather than mass medication," said Michelle Robinson, another speaker at the hearing.

In fact, fluoride already occurs naturally in a lot of water and can be found in most toothpastes and mouthwashes. Additionally, those who are deficient can take fluoride supplements if so advised by a dentist.

"As a Calgarian in a free society, I should be able to make the decision on how to approach my health and the health of my family," said Robinson.

The ethical aspect of mass medication through the public water supply has long been a central objection to the process of fluoridation. Over time, various medical studies have added their concerns, identifying fluoride as the cause of health problems ranging from weaker bones to lower intelligence in children. Some studies even show that fluoride accumulates in the human body.

In 2008, a panel told Health Canada that fluoride levels in drinking water need to be limited to balance cavity protection with the risk of dental fluorosis.

Hardy Limeback, head of the preventive dentistry program at the University of Toronto, says, "A number of medical journal studies have linked [fluoride] exposure to altered thyroid function and to reduced IQ levels in children, although the intellectual impairments were found at levels of the chemical in water well above those used for municipal supplies."

Most worrisome is a 2006 Harvard study, which found that boys aged 7 exposed to high levels of fluoridated water were about four times more likely to develop childhood osteosarcoma. "It's a rare bone cancer that felled Canadian icon Terry Fox and almost always leads to amputations," says Limeback.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not convinced about the harm of fluoridation. It claims that the link between fluoride and better teeth is well proven while the link between fluoride and cancer is tenuous at best.

Moreover, fluoride critics often refer to Canada as the most fluoridated nation in the world, but in fact, Health Canada started recommending the lower 0.7 milligrams per litre level of fluoridation currently being considered by the US some years ago.

Dr. Richard Musto of Alberta Health Services noted at the hearing that countries regularly review the information found in new studies and always conclude that the low fluoride dosage in water is safe and beneficial.

"All of the major health and dental authorities in the world support [adding fluoride to the water supply]," Musto said.

"I think the evidence is very strong that this is a very effective, safe, and cost-efficient way of bringing this benefit to all members of our city and our society who drink this water."

About 46 percent of Canadians receive fluoridated drinking water. The ratios vary widely within the country. There is no fluoridation occurring in the Yukon and Nunavut. A very small minority of communities in Newfoundland and British Columbia add water to the drinking supply. Ontario is the most fluoridated province, with 76 percent of its residents living in municipalities where the water is fluoridated.

The matter is expected to come before the Calgary city council in early February.

Links and sources
  Calgary's fluoride debate goes public
  Calgary fluoride debate delayed to Jan. 26 to allow more input
  Fluoridation in drinking water brings risks, few benefits
  Moncton to continue water fluoridation
  Calgary could lose fluoride

Posted: January 28, 2011

  Health care
  Public services

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