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Council not eager to rethink fluoride in water

There appears to be little appetite on St. Albert city council to halt the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water.

There appears to be little appetite on St. Albert city council to halt the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water.

A recent decision by Calgary city council to stop adding fluoride to its water has prompted a couple of local residents to press St. Albert council for a similar decision.

The debate about the benefits and safety of fluoridation of water has been contentious for years. The pro side typically cites decades worth of research that shows fluoridation helps prevent tooth decay.

The con side argues the benefits of fluoride are available from other sources, such as toothpaste, while fluoride has been linked to other health problems. Another common argument is that it's ethically wrong to medicate the entire population when some would abstain if they could.

"We are wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year fluoridating our water when it is completely unnecessary, unethical and dangerous," said St. Albert resident Brendan Skinner.

Council reaction

The issue is very complex because St. Albert gets its water from City of Edmonton-owned Epcor and there's a tremendous amount of science involved, said Mayor Nolan Crouse.

"It's not on our priorities and therefore as mayor I'm not supporting spending any time on it," he said.

Epcor began fluoridating water in 1966 as a result of a plebiscite and currently sets the fluoride level at 0.7 mg/L, which is the optimum level determined by an expert panel commissioned by Health Canada in 2008, said spokesman Tim le Riche.

Any change to the program would have to come from elected politicians, le Riche said. He noted that Epcor has received seven calls from the public about the issue so far this year.

St. Albert resident Michelle Hartum first tried to get council to take up the issue in 2008. She'd like St. Albert to take the lead in drumming up support for the cause in the Capital region.

"We can vote it out. I think it's up to us," she said.

Taking on the issue would require a major review by city administration, said Coun. Roger Lemieux, and there's not enough public pressure to warrant that.

"I've never been stopped in the streets to say, hey listen, you guys should look into this, so I think, if we did anything, we're over-reacting," he said.

Coun. Cathy Heron supports fluoride in the water based on the positions of Health Canada and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which in 1999 named fluoridation as one of the top 10 achievements in U.S. public health in the 20th century.

"There's a lot of evidence to support the benefits of fluoride," she said. "The evidence against fluoride are not from those same reputable sources."

Coun. Wes Brodhead is interested in learning more but so far he's not aware of any reason to think Epcor water isn't second to none.

"I don't know an awful lot about fluoridation to step out and say we're poisoning our people because I don't believe that for a second," he said.

Coun. Malcolm Parker feels the science lines up in support of fluoridation as "a good preventative thing for your teeth."

"Everybody, regardless of their income levels or lifestyle, are exposed to it. That can't be anything but a positive thing," he said.

Coun. Cam MacKay is less accepting of the norm. He's influenced by the fact that fluoridation isn't common in Western Europe. He also noted the position of the Canadian Cancer Society, which supports the use of fluoridation at its minimum effective level and acknowledges the dangers of overexposure.

"Right now there are so many municipalities that are taking that out of the water so it does make you think," MacKay said. "There's a lot more there than it initially seems on the surface."

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