Red Deer residents will continue to drink fluoridated water.
In a surprise move, council voted 6-2 in favour of maintaining the existing levels of fluoride in the water supply at its Monday meeting.
The swift ruling came after council voted to make a decision instead of going to a nonbinding plebiscite.
Coun. Chris Stephan and Coun. Tara Veer were opposed to both motions. Coun. Paul Harris was absent from the meeting.
Mayor Morris Flewwelling said it is important for the community to see council as being rational and decisive. Flewwelling said council has worked on this issue for a year and a half, consuming just about every piece of information available on fluoride, talking to experts and consulting with the public.
“A plebiscite is not binding on council,” said Flewwelling. “So you get a plebiscite that is 48 per cent to take it out and 52 per cent to keep it. So what does that tell you? You grind through the whole thing again and then council is faced with making a decision.”
A standalone plebiscite would come with an estimated $100,000 to $150,000 pricetag, and a question on a municipal election ballot would cost $5,000. Flewwelling said the current council is well-informed to make the decision for the community.
“If we do (a plebiscite) at election time, you are passing the whole torch to new council,” said Flewwelling. “And they would have to gear up for that.”
City council had the option to go to a plebiscite or voting on maintaining, removing or changing the existing levels of fluoride. The city adds fluoride in a concentration of less than 0.8 milligrams per litres, in keeping with the latest Health Canada recommendations.
Stephan argued if the city was looking for a long-term solution, a plebiscite would have been the optimal way to go. Stephan said the next council will likely go through the same discussions.
“If I am sure of one thing, that’s this is not the end,” said Stephan. “The opposition of fluoride in our community is strong. Again we’re going to continue to hear for it for the rest of our term but the next council is going to have to hear about it again. I fully believe until it goes to a plebiscite you’re not going to have any long- term closure. I think if it goes to a plebiscite you would have at least had a closure for a number of years.”
Stephan said voting against keeping fluoride came down to looking at the interests of the minorities. Stephan said there are more expensive options for those people who want fluoride eliminated from the water.
Coun. Lynne Mulder said she had initially wanted a plebiscite but she changed her opinion after learning about plebiscite decisions across Canada that almost always were separated by a few points.
“I thought we might as well debate it now,” said Mulder. “I am glad we took the length of time. I think we really came to a better decision because we got more input.”
Mulder lined up behind the health professionals and health organizations in making her decision to keep fluoride in the water supply.
“I don’t think all of the experts, the 90 professionals that support fluoridation in the water can be ignored,” said Mulder. “I like to look at experts for their assistance. I think they gave it to us. With the evidence, I believe fluoride is safe and it does prevent cavities. It occurs naturally in the water and we just top it up.”
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said she weighed both sides of the issue and learned the truth lies somewhere between the history of the use of fluoride in preventing tooth decay and the information that supports fluoride is a health risk.
“I do support the medical and health specialists who have provided the rationale that there’s value to dental health,” said Wyntjes. “But at the same time I do recognize some of the concerns citizens have raised.”
Coun. Buck Buchanan also relied on health professionals and experts to make his decision although he is not 100 per cent sure the issue should be on the municipal table. He said perhaps Alberta Health Services should be making the decision.
Veer said she is convinced that fluoride in water is good for dental care but less convinced it should be added to the water supply. Veer said she made the best decision with the information in front of her.
Veer echoed Stephan’s sediments doubting council’s decision will put the issue to bed.
The city supplies water to more than 145,000 customers in Red Deer, Ponoka, Blackfalds and Lacombe.
In May 2011, city council called for public consultation to determine a process to address fluoridation. The city conducted surveys, held community cafes, and online discussions to gather input from Red Deerians.
About 160 people attended a September forum with 33 people making presentations to the council. Two expert speakers argued a side of the issue.
Of which 11 presenters supported continuation of fluoride and 19 supported the removal of fluoride in the municipal water supply. In addition, the city received 102 emails (from January to October 2012), of which 65 supported continuation of fluoridation, 29 supported discontinuation and eight did not state an opinion either way.
The city also received 511 survey responses from to the question of a plebiscite or council decision. Of the 511, 48 per cent wanted a decision based on in depth public consultation, 31.1 per cent wanted council to make a decision with the information they already had and 26.4 per cent wanted a decision made through a plebiscite.