Churchill, Manitoba will no longer add fluoride to its’ or beluga whales drinking water. A four year, four month campaign by Churchill No Fluoride led by resident activist Mark Brackley has culminated with victory for those dedicated to stopping the process of adding fluoride to the water supply once it is pumped from the Churchill River. Voters won majority in a plebiscite last October in favor of ending the fluoridation of the town’s water supply. However, small town politics are always sticky and the vote was put up for review by Mayor Mike Spence and city council. Apparently the council was searching for an alternative fluoride treatment process to replace the existing system. With pressure from Brackley and his constituents, the vote was finally ratified and unanimously approved last week by city council. A date of September 15, 2012 was set as the day when town water will be fluoride free.
Churchill CAO Albert Meijering said a fluoride rinse program will be installed in the local school and any resident will be able to take part in the program.
Flouridation of water supplies has been prolific since the 1950’s and 60’s worldwide as an effective way to prevent tooth decay. Only recently has strong opposition and lobbying gained enough force, backed by scientific evidence to convince local governments to cease adding the substance to drinking water in many locations. Opposition opinion against the process is based mainly on the fact that dosages of fluoride are not regulated. Simply put, the more water consumed, the more fluoride you take into your body. Churchill is a dry climate and water is consumed more often than many other towns. This makes the issue even more pressing here.
Most European countries have stopped water-fluoridation programs, including recent converts Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland. Other Canadian cities have stopped the fluoridation process prior to Churchill. Most recently Flin Flon stopped adding fluoride to its water supply at the end of July 2011 and Calgary stopped in May 2011. Winnipeg lowered its’ fluoride content from .85 milligrams per liter to .7 milligrams on recommendations from Health Canada and Manitoba Health. Brackley and his group will now focus their efforts on Winnipeg, assisting local activists there with hopes of removing fluoride from the provincial capital’s drinking water. The battle continues on.
Beluga whales in the Churchill River.
Before the final vote to end fluoridation was cast by Churchill town council, Brackley had planned to film a documentary this Summer on the affects of fluoride on the marine habitat…specifically how water runoff and discharge containing fluoride into the Churchill River could be harming the beluga whale population that fills the river and Hudson Bay each year. No significant research has been conducted in the far north where research dollars don’t go as far as Southern communities. Most likely that project will not need to happen now.
Less than a week ago Churchill was hit with a late season Winter storm. Inevitably the cold season will give way to warmer temperatures though for now the Churchill area continues to cling to below freezing cold. Today the mercury reached a high of 27 F and the Hudson Bay remains ice filled.
However, for the same reason ice forms earlier in the Fall along the coast of Churchill, the land-fast ice and ice just along the coast begins to dissolve more quickly this time of year. Numerous fresh water rivers, including the mighty Churchill River, flow into the bay in the area. This saturation of fresh water freezes faster in the Fall and the same warmer water from the South tends to escalate the water temperature along the coast in the Spring. While the bay remains fairly consistent overall in ice-pack concentration, open water appears in the same places ice starts to form late November. The ice chart below from the Canadian Ice Survey illustrates current conditions.
Current ice concentration in the Hudson Bay.
Once the ice begins to diminish and break up in the bay, nearly 2,500 beluga whales will make their way down from the Hudson Straits in the Northeastern Hudson Bay area. Many females will be giving berth once in the “warmer”…40 F waters of the Churchill River mouth or if they can hold off the birthing, they will make their way up the river to the warmer, often 50 plus F water. This area, 12 -18 kilometers up river provides an incredibly comfortable “nursery” for mothers and calves. When you see the number of whales, many with calf’s in their slip-stream it’s magical. A completely different feel from the clear, cold choppy water around the mouth and in the bay itself. Groups of adult males cruising through the icy water provide action packed viewing quite regularly. Feeding on capelin – minnow sized fish spawning by the thousands in Summer- whales zig -zag across the mile- wide river intently focused on their prey. Meanwhile above the surface, iconic Arctic birds like jaegers, Arctic terns ,Franklin’s gulls and Bonapart’s gulls copete for capelin pushed to the surface by the frenzied whales.
Feeding whales in the Churchill River. Steve Selden photo.
Early June is birding season in Churchill though many species endure throughout the Summer. Wildflowers will begin to bloom as soon as the temperatures allow for the consistent warmer days. Arctic avens will carpet the tundra with their whiteness first followed by waves of others all through the Summer. My Churchill wildflower book looks like it’s been through the washer from 12 years of guiding Churchill Arctic Summer trips. Complete with pressed mosquitos on every other page, the book is also filled with engrained memories!
Photo Steve Selden.
Although the temperatures will slowly climb into the 50’s F next week and then higher still through June, July and August, the nights tend to cool down to require a fleece and hat most of the Summer. Days for the most part stay cool although Churchill has been the hotspot from time to time in Manitoba. No matter the weather, Summer in Churchill is unmatched in the raw beauty it unveils. If you’ve traveled to this place in Fall for the bears, you will love the Summer….the treasures of the tundra and the waters are different every day. After 12 years I still know there is more to see. Polar bears, beluga whales, incredible bird life and wildflowers…even aurora borealis in later Summer…Churchill has it all and more!
Natural Habitat longtime guide Eric rock recently presented a webinar on polar bear photography. He also gets into other aspects of Churchill and what to expect from this amazing, unique environment nestled on the shore of the Hudson Bay in central Northern Canada. Eric has been guiding Churchill polar bear trips for about 15 years and has been exposed to every type of bear behavior and photography conditions many times over. He shares his wealth of knowledge here for those who may be going to Churchill this Fall or even Summer for the beluga whale and Arctic summer trips. Or, if you are thinking of a trip sometime down the road, take a look and you will gather some quite inspiring information on how to capture these beautiful animals with your lens.
Eric will give you incredible insight into northern Arctic photography and the essence of photographing polar bears..specifically in Churchill,MB..a tiny seaport town on the precambrian shield along the Hudson Bay. Not only does Eric give you technical advice, he also provides inspiring thought on the experience of sharing the land with the polar bear and the simplicity which surrounds the majestic creatures. take this treasure trove of information and store it in your own files or return to churchillpolarbears.org for this and other resources on Churchill and other informative articles about the area. Also, go to Facebook and like Churchill Polar Bears …like us…and you will get periodic reports and articles on Churchill and polar bears!
I remember guiding Natural Habitat Churchill Summer travelers through the Churchill Northern Study Center to give them a little idea of what various research happens in the north. The old metal building was a left-over from the old rocket launching facility still standing , though barely, at the terminus of launch road about 20 kilometers from the town limits. It seemed to fit in quite nicely with the other decaying buildings on site. Two archaic rocket launch towers loom overhead and other collapsing buildings surrounding the compound have been dormant since 1990. Originally opened in 1954, the launch site was used by the Canadian army, Canadian government and the United States military over many years for research of effects of auroras on communications and later solid fuel propellant for rockets such as the Black Brandt. Once the cold war ended, another war on “cold” began…hence the new, incredibly energy efficient 27,000 sq ft facility.
Churchill Northern Studies Center -Photo CSNC
The new structure was dubbed the “upside -down ark” by many locals though the ensuing “meat on the bones” of the unique structure has gained more widespread acclaim as an incredibly “green” endeavor. On track to obtain Manitoba’s northernmost LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, the CNSC reduces both the high cost of operating in the North and reliance on outside services and utilities. The ongoing “cold war” in the north is a constant battle to keep the cold outside of any building and utilize energy most efficiently. With temperatures reaching -55 C in the heart of Winter, any new design or idea to combat frigid weather can save money year after year. In the Northern Studies Center case, savings can go toward increasing research funding and the ability to offer additional programs to the public.
Highlights of the new efficient building focus on conserving the all-vital energy produced in the north. Ninety per cent of the structure’s interior is exposed to natural light and artificial lighting is designed to compliment the outside source. Insulation values of R-40 are maximized with triple-pane windows and a south facing solar wall that preheats interior ventilation air. Unique concepts in heat exchange provide an incredible 80% recovery rate of energy used to heat air. Plumbing comes into play as well. heat recovered from shower grey water is used to heat cold water traveling to the water heater itself. That grey water will also be used for the flush toilets, thereby conserving even more.
Glue-laminated wood columns and supports shape the “Upside-Down Ark.” (Photo Credit: Penn-Co)
The old building will be renovated and utilized to house many of the mechanical systems needed to operate the new facility at a safe distance from the areas required for research and instruction there. “It will house many of the service functions (maintenance and contract research) of the CNSC. These areas will require less energy in some cases and will allow for many of the mechanical systems to be located away from the residential and teaching functions of the new building.” Executive Director Michael Goodyear stated.
The Centre’s bio-filtration system uses bacteria to break down waste water for release into an underground filtration bed. (Photo Credit: CNS
Despite the cold in Winter, Churchill is abundant in its’ biodiversity. The iconic polar bear, flora of the tundra and boreal forest, bird life and of course the majestic beluga whales of Spring and Summer make this place a prime destination for researchers and travelers. The Churchill Northern Studies Center can now support a greater number of people with interests in the region. Dormitories have rooms for 88 people now and 12,000 square feet of space for laboratories ease the strain on researchers and grad students working here. The new cafeteria seats 100 so everyone can eat together and share information and stories. In short the new facility is amazing!