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Calgary's plan to reintroduce fluoride into drinking water pushed back to 2025

A kitchen tap runs in this undated stock image. (Kaboompics.com/Pexels) A kitchen tap runs in this undated stock image. (Kaboompics.com/Pexels)
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The City of Calgary’s plan to reintroduce fluoride back into the drinking water supply has been delayed again – and is now set to be ready by 2025.

In a statement Friday, the city said construction of necessary infrastructure upgrades at the Glenmore and Bearspaw Water Treatment Plants is underway, but is taking longer than projected.

The system was expected to be in service by September 2024, after construction began in September 2023.

“This date was set with an understanding that timelines may change due to ongoing uncertainty with the global supply chain,” the city said in the statement.

The city now anticipates the fluoride system will be in service by the first quarter of 2025.

The project initially had a targeted completion date of June 2024, but that was pushed back last summer.

As of July 2023, the costs to reintroduce fluoridation would include $28.1 million in infrastructure upgrades at the two water treatment plants, $864,000 in annual operating costs and $100,000 to $200,000 in annual maintenance.

The reintroduction of fluoride was originally approved in 2021. The move followed a plebiscite on the issue that occurred during the municipal election the same year.

Calgary discontinued adding fluoride to its drinking water in 2011, as directed by city council.

The city said the previous fluoridation infrastructure reached the end of its lifecycle and was decommissioned and removed, which led to the need for the current upgrades.

Fluoridation has been a common issue at city hall, with several previous plebiscite votes in 1999, 1989, 1971, 1966, 1961 and 1957.

Calgary will join Edmonton, Lethbridge and Red Deer as the other Alberta municipalities that add fluoride to drinking water, once the project is complete.

Fluoride in Alberta

James A. Dickinson, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, said the rates of dental treatments under anesthesia have risen steadily in Calgary since the loss of fluoridation.

“We are concerned about avoidable and potentially life-threatening disease, pain, suffering, misery and expense experienced especially by very young children and their families due to dental decay,” Dickinson said in an emailed statement.

“In just eight years after fluoridation ended in 2011, the need for intravenous antibiotic therapy by children to avoid death by infection rose 700 per cent at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.”

According to Dickinson, a recent University of Alberta study shows that for children under five years old, the rate of dental treatments under anesthesia doubled from 22 per 100,000 in 2010-11 to 45 per 100,000 in 2018-19.

For kids aged six to 11, the rates rose from 14 per 100,000 to 19 per 100,000.

The rates stayed the same over that time period in Edmonton, where the water is fluoridated.

“Since fluoridation ceased, the cavities (holes) in teeth are more numerous and larger. These might require filling or extractions,” Dickinson said.

“They are occurring earlier in a child’s life so that treatment can require general anesthesia.”

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