News

What's in your water?

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Do you have any idea what is added to our drinking water? Vice- president Information Services for the University of Calgary EcoClub Cody Torgerson does, and he and the rest of the EcoClub want everyone to understand the current debate surrounding the fluoridation of our drinking water. This is why the EcoClub is hosting a Fluoridation EcoSpeak on Sept. 30 from 11a.m.-1p.m.

For years Calgarians have been drinking water that contains the additive hydrofluosilicic acid. It has generally been thought that by adding this type of fluoride to our drinking water we are receiving the beneficial effects of both topical (tooth surface) and systemic (developing teeth and bones) fluoride. Recently, in Calgary, the benefits of fluoride have come under intense scrutiny with a plebiscite about the issue as part of the Oct. 19 civic election. To fully understand the issue, the City of Calgary and the Calgary Regional Health Authority took action.

"According to a May 1998 press release, in late 1997 the CRHA and the City of Calgary organized an independent scientific panel to determine whether water fluoridation is still a desirable public health policy. The panel of five U of C professors, experts in pediatrics, toxicology, biostatistics, bone disorders, water pollution and environmental effects, completed a thorough review of the scientific fluoridation literature since 1989.

The local gladiators in the debate over water fluoridation are the CRHA and the Health Action Network Society.

The CRHA has a legislative mandate to protect and promote health in the region and to work for the prevention of disease and injury. The panel has found no new scientific evidence on the health and safety effects of fluoridation of Calgary's water which would support a substantial change to current policy.

However, the HANS has a different opinion.

"Science and common sense clearly tell us that we should all be trying to limit our daily intake (of fluoride), not increase it by fluoridating," says Director of hans's Alberta Chapter Elke Babiuk.

With a plebiscite granted for the October 19 election, against the recommendations of the pre-mentioned scientific panel, the key players are taking their gloves off. Legal action has been taken against the CRHA by a small group of Calgarians and is scheduled to be heard in the Court of Queen's Bench Sept. 29.

"The main reason for the injunction is that we have an obligation to vote on the plebiscite on Oct. 19," said spokesperson Jorg Ostrowski. "Our health organization [CRHA] is not giving both sides of the story. As taxpayers, we have the right to freedom of information that so far is being denied. We're asking for an injunction to stop this kind of lobbying early next week."

HANS claims that no contemporary evidence of relevant benefit exist. Although specific examples were not presented, Babiuk is of the opinion that, "fluoridation denies freedom of choice and exposes Calgarians to frank, irrefutable evidence of harm."

The CRHA says they can counter these claims.

"Fluoride should definitely remain in the water. It is a cheap, inexpensive [60 cents per person], and effective way to improve health," stated CRHA Deputy Medical Officer of Health Richard Musto.

"In the past the cost of fluoridating the general public was $423,000 per year," continued Musto. "This figure only ensured 16 per cent compliance. Currently, we hold 100 per cent compliance, due to water fluoridation, at an annual cost of $474,232, and with fluoridation we lose the hassle of pills and fluoride drops. Add to this a dollar total of $60,000-70,000 to the City of Calgary for the upcoming plebiscite and the CRHA's position becomes clearer."

The CRHA says water fluoridation is a safe, inexpensive mechanism to improve the health of Calgarians.

"Drinking fluoridated water at the recommended level is not detrimental to health," says Musto. "For the last 50 years there have been scientific studies that prove any health risks and there is evidence of its safety at the recommended levels. When taken at recommended levels fluoride in the water supply will not even cause staining or mottling of the teeth [a characteristic of dental fluorosis, or fluoride poisoning]."

Questions like these regarding the upcoming plebiscite are the main reasons for EcoSpeak. EcoSpeaks are generally held to discuss isSUes of an environmental nature.

"It grew out of an interest in fluoridation and the underdog,"said Torgerson. "As I was getting myself informed, I felt I should inform the student body."

Presentations will be given by both sides of the issue with a mediated question-and-answer period to follow. The EcoClub holds a back-room role in the presentation.

"All we will do is advertise," said Torgerson. "We encourage the parties involved to keep away from debate. The mediator is used so that it doesn't turn into a shouting match and so emotion doesn't become involved in our EcoSpeak. The EcoClub wants to inform people on water fluoridation direct from the source."

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