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First major Public Health shift in over 50 years
Health officials want fluoride levels reduced

by Mark Lowey, Calgary
Herald, March 20, 1998

Calgary public health officials will recommend the city reduce fluoride in drinking water after a government advisory group found people are over-exposed to the chemical. "We are satisfied that water fluoridation remains a safe and effective public health measure" to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities, said Dr. Brent Friesen, chief medical officer of health for the Calgary Regional Health Authority.

But health officials will follow the recommendation of a federal-provincial subcommittee on drinking water standards, to reduce fluoride levels in tap water by 20 percent, Friesen said in an interview Thursday.

The advisory group has recommended the "optimal" level of fluoride be cut to 0.8 parts per million from the current one ppm (or one milligram per litre). The maximum limit allowed in drinking water will remain at 1.5 ppm

It is the first reduction in the optimal level since water fluoridation began in North America more than 50 years ago. Health officials and the city's waterworks department also are waiting for the scientific review. The review on fluoride's effectiveness and safety is nearing completion by a panel of a local university experts, said Read Seidner, supervisor of the city waterworks laboratory. The five-member panel's report is scheduled to be released nest month.

Recent health studies have shown overexposure to fluoride has increased the number of children with a dental condition called fluorosis. It ranges from white flecks on teeth to severe mottling and pitting of tooth enamel.

Fluoridation of Calgary water supply started in August 1991, after being endorsed by 53 percent of voters in a 1989 municipal plebiscite. Voters had defeated the measure in four previous plebiscites, in 1957, 1961, 1966 and 1971.

Calgary mother Elke Babiuk who opposes fluoridation, said the latest studies show fluoride is ineffective in fighting tooth decay and causes dental fluorosis, bone damage and other health problems.

Karu Chinniah, Alberta Environmental Protection's representative on the subcommittee, said the reduction should help avoid fluorosis yet still prevent cavities.

Health studies show people are getting fluoride from many sources, including toothpaste, mouthwash and fluoride rinses in dental offices, Chinniah said. Fluoride can also be present in soda pop, canned foods and tea.

Last modified: 7 September 2001

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