The City of Calgary’s upcoming plebiscite on whether or not residents support re-introducing fluoride into the municipality’s drinking water will also have implications in Airdrie.
In conjunction with the upcoming municipal election on Oct. 18, voters in Calgary will also answer a plebiscite on whether or not they support the addition of fluoride into their city’s water supply.
As Airdrie gets its drinking water from Calgary, the result of the plebiscite will also determine if Airdrie’s water in the future will contain fluoride, according to the City of Airdrie’s manager of community infrastructure, Lorne Stevens.
“I know the topic of fluoridation can be quite contentious,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we don’t have a team of fluoride researchers or public health experts employed by the City of Airdrie. We rely on the guidance of Health Canada and Alberta Health Services, and both of those entities do recommend fluoridation as a public health measure, focusing on dental health – there’s a whole back story of why that is.”
Calgary previously added fluoride to its drinking water, but City council voted to discontinue the practice in 2011. Since then, the topic of fluoridation has been a hot button issue in Calgary, with the current and previous councils frequently discussing the subject. Plebiscites on fluoridation in Calgary date back to the 1950s.
Those in favour of fluoridation often cite a university study from 2018 that found youth in Edmonton, where water is fluoridated, tend to have lower rates of dental decay than youth in Calgary, where fluoride is not present in the drinking water.
Other cities in Alberta that add fluoride to their drinking water sources include Lethbridge and Red Deer, according to Stevens, who acknowledged City of Airdrie staff and elected officials have received feedback from residents about the topic of fluoridation over the years.
“I’m pleased to say we have probably one of the highest quality water supplies of anywhere in Alberta, if not Canada, by virtue of being in a headwater situation from the Bow and Elbow rivers, which have their source from the Rocky Mountains,” he said.
According to Stevens, small amounts of fluoride are already present in Calgary and Airdrie’s drinking water sources, to the tune of between 0.1 and 0.4 milligrams per litre. He added Health Canada’s Drinking Water Guidelines recommends amounts of fluoride up to 0.7 milligrams per litre.
He noted Airdrie used to have additional fluoride in its water beyond naturally occurring amounts from 1991 until 2011, when Calgary City council voted to discontinue it.
In the event Calgary electors vote in favour of the re-introduction of fluoride, Stevens said another aspect of Calgary's plebiscite is that City council will ask the provincial government to pay for the commissioning of any necessary technology.
“It appears Calgary, in the event of an affirmative vote, would be asking the Province to pay for fluoridation,” said Stevens, adding the process would likely take up to two years to implement.
“At the end of the day, our contract with Calgary stipulates they need to provide water that meets Health Canada’s drinking water guidelines,” he said.