Fluoride is going back in Calgary water following a Monday decision at city hall.
That decision follows a plebiscite question in the October municipal election that found 62 per cent of Calgarians voted in favour of reintroducing the substance dental associations say can prevent tooth decay.
City council approved the reintroduction of fluoride in a 13-2 vote, with only councillors Andre Chabot and Dan McLean opposing.
Juliet Guichon, president of Calgarians for Kids Health and third-party advertiser Fluoride Yes, thanked council for approving fluoridation following the plebiscite.
“Their votes demonstrated an acceptance of the scientific consensus opinion based on over 75 years of peer-reviewed research that fluoridation is effective in reducing dental decay and that it’s safe for everyone,” she said.
Guichon cited studies showing Grade 2 children who have not known fluoridated water saw a notable increase in the rates of dental decay. Reversing that trend will take some time, she said.
“Dentists tell me it takes some time to see a benefit: not months, but years,” Guichon said.
City officials told council it would cost about $10.1 million in capital costs, with operating and maintenance costs at $1 million for the next 20 years. Officials said it would take between 18 to 24 months to complete the work to add fluoride to city taps.
According to Guichon’s math, that works out to $1.32 per resident per year.
Citing the lack of informed public going to the polls on the matter, Chabot tried to have the decision referred to a city committee, but that move was defeated 2-13, with only councillors Chabot and Sean Chu in support.
“We’d have been better off voting on a speed limit,” added Chabot, the representative for Ward 10.
Chabot also expressed frustration with the city having to step in to an area of provincial authority: health care.
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said she would like to explore having a conversation with the province about that government taking a more active role in dental care.
“I’d be happy to have that conversation with the province,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said. “We’ve tried to have these conversations on several files.”
After the decision, Gondek said she looks forward to having further conversations about fluoridation with her provincial counterparts.
“Oral health is public health, and so when you have responsibility for public health, you should be making decisions like this and you should be paying for the decisions that you make,” she told reporters.
“Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with our provincial government, but we persist and we continue to do the right thing for Calgarians.”
The city also serves surrounding municipalities with its treated water. The mayor said she expected part of the 18-to-24 month timeline includes communications around those deals in place.
Chabot said he’s planning on installing a reverse-osmosis system for his home’s water and said the “best thing” he can do in light of council’s decision is to lobby the provincial government for fluoridation funding.
Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said she heard a very informed electorate while doorknocking during the election.
“What I heard over and over from citizens was less about the merits of for/against fluoride, but a frustration of the fact that we come back to this over and over again,” she said.
In February, the previous council and committees decided to have the fluoride matter go to a question for voters on their ballots.
A decade ago, council decided to remove fluoride from the city’s water supply following a lengthy debate and public hearing.
In 2011, Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra voted to remove fluoride from the city’s water supply. He voted for the addition on Monday.
He said his earlier vote was out of “exasperation” that health care is under the province’s auspices. But the data was irrefutable for Carra.
“Anyone who digs into the fluoride situation has to arrive at the realization that we need universal dental care and that fluoridation alone is a very small part of dental health,” Carra said. “We are talking about fluoridation reducing the inflected upward curve of dental caries.
“As proponents of fluoridation rightly point out, it does have a minor positive impact on dental health and for a minimal cost, and Calgarians asked for it.”
It’s the eighth time in 70 years Calgarians have voted on adding the substance to city water.
According to the Alberta Dental Association and College, there are between 0.1 and 0.4 parts per million of fluoride naturally in drinking water.
–with files from Adam MacVicar, Global News