Anti-fluoride activists say the fight is far from over.
While disappointed with Red Deer city council’s decision to continue adding fluoride to the city’s regional water supply, opponents were encouraged that the controversial issue was brought to the forefront.
“A lot of cities don’t even get that chance,” said Diane Hermary. “(This) opens the door for education. I think we have a solid victory in that because a lot of people have educated themselves on the topic that wouldn’t have before.”
Hermary was in chambers when council voted 6-2 in favour of continuing with fluoridated water and putting the issue to bed on Monday night. Councillors Tara Veer and Chris Stephan were opposed to both motions. Coun. Paul Harris was absent from the meeting.
Many expected the contentious issue to be settled at the ballot box during next year’s civic election.
Doubts about council’s ability to make decisions were raised after council halted the Red Deer Native Friendship Society’s affordable housing project in Clearview Ridge and backtracked on the bike lane pilot project in recent months.
Hermary said they had the impression that council did not even want to talk about making a controversial decision.
“Very surprised,” said Hermary. “I was almost convinced they were going to a plebiscite . . . I am really glad council stepped up . . . I am happy they had the courage to step up and do it.”
Coreen Evans, who has snubbed fluoride since 1989, said she was proud city council took the concerns with fluoride seriously, put it on the table and dealt with it.
“I am glad they decided to jump into it and make a decision on their own,” said Evans. “Although I am disappointed with the outcome, the biggest problem I had is that they kept referring to it as fluoride. It’s not just fluoride. It’s hexafluorosilicic acid and it’s a toxic byproduct of fertilizer. People just don’t understand that.”
Evans was also disappointed that some councillors chose to stand behind health professionals and Alberta Health Services but did not recognize Dr. Jeff Beck, an anti-fluoride health professional and a professor emeritus at the University of Calgary. Beck was one of the experts who spoke at a session on fluoride in September.
Evans said opponents of fluoride have not succeeded this time but that doesn’t mean the deal is done. Next year, Red Deer’s informal anti-fluoride group will refocus and continue to educate the public on the risks of fluoride.
A new city council will be elected in October 2013 and the group will likely give those councillors an earful.
Red Deer’s dental community, however, was pleasantly surprised with council’s swift ruling.
“We thought there were more councillors opposed to keeping fluoride in the water,” said dentist Jo Scalzo. “We are so happy. The future generations of children in Red Deer will be blessed because this is a fantastic decision.”
Scalzo said she understands the issue will not go away and as a part of the dental community they have to be diligent in getting the message out about what a lack of fluoride will mean.
“Every day I see people giving children sweetened drinks,” said Scalzo. “Yes there has to be education on prevention of cavities but the fluoride is our first defence so we need that fluoride for children who are most vulnerable, especially for children of low-income families who do not have resources. We are just very pleased with this decision.”
David Hall, who has practised dentistry in Red Deer for 18 years, said he was equally surprised and pleased with council’s ruling to stay the course. Hall said the fight has been ongoing since fluoridation was introduced to water supplies in the 1950s and he expects it to continue.
Hall said the course of action is to continue to educate the public with scientific data.
“It’s hard to be able to get people to understand what scientific data is,” said Hall. “When you go on the Internet, there’s what, 9,000 hits when you type in fluoride? You’ve got to base medicine on proper scientific research statistical data and not on a Google search.”
Fluoridation of Red Deer’s public water supply was mandated by a plebiscite in the 1950s. The water treatment plant is legally required to continue this practice until administration is directed by council to apply for an amendment to the province.
City council delved into the contentious fluoride debate last year when it began public consultation on how to make the decision on eliminating, reducing or continuing with water fluoridation.
“It will come up again,” said Hermary. “It’s not over. We’ll have a new council next year and we’re all regrouping and getting ready to fight the good fight a little more.”