Water treatment plant
WASHINGTON – From Pennsylvania to Nebraska and from Europe to New Zealand, there is growing and fierce opposition to plans to fluoridate public drinking water, fueled by a battery of shocking new studies that seriously question a practice routine among U.S. municipalities for nearly the last 50 years.
- In Clearfield, Pa., the municipal authority asked the state Department of Environmental Protection for permission to stop adding fluoride to its water. But before city officials got an answer, they got a lawsuit threat from the Pennsylvania Dental Association, which promised not only an injunction against any plans to stop adding the chemical to drinking supplies but litigation against the individual board members who approved the action. The city backed down and continues to fluoridate water.
- In Port Huron, Mich., officials are considering a halt to fluoridation that began in 1974, as residents have argued the treatment poses health risks to newborns and infants, those with thyroid conditions and others. Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Fisher said: “Fluoride is cumulative in your body. … There’s a fairly large body of scientists that believe it’s not good for your health.”
- In South Blount, Tenn., it’s the opponents of fluoride who are threatening to sue city officials planning to introduce the chemical into water supplies. They cite new studies suggesting fluoride leads to brittle bones, cancer, kidney disease, neurological problems and other ailments, including lower IQs.
- In the Canadian community of Dryden, Ontario, residents voted against fluoridation of their water last month, ending a raging debate that has gone on for more than one year.
- In Smithfield, Va., the fluoride problem is a little bit different. There the concern is too much naturally occurring fluoride in the town’s supplies. The state’s Department of Health has ordered those levels be reduced, but the state’s Department of Environmental Quality is stopping action because the plan would draw too much water from a deep underground aquifer.
- In England, where most public drinking is not artificially fluoridated, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is pushing the practice by municipalities such as Southampton. Pushing back, however, is a strong effort by the country’s Green Party, which says adding the chemical to water supplies removes the people’s freedom to choose. Eric Hyland of the party said: “Fluoride is toxic waste. It is more toxic than lead and marginally less so than arsenic. This is what the government wants to put in your drinking water. It is illegal under the Poisons Act to administer poisonous or noxious substances to anyone, and the Green Party will continue to campaign against it.”
- In the Canadian community of Drayton Valley in Alberta, where fluoride has been added to the tap water since the mid-1960s, the town council is considering backtracking. Last month, officials heard a presentation from water plant manager Bernie Berube, who urged them to abandon the process because of the inability to accurately measure amounts of fluoride in the water. He said it was a matter of health and safety for the community.
- In Nebraska, the unicameral legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto of a bill mandating fluoridation of all water supplies serving 1,000 or more people, unless those communities hold referenda opting out before June 1, 2010. Communities like Chadron, which voted against fluoridation in 1978, would have to vote again before the new deadline to be eligible to maintain their fluoride-free status.
- Quebec City discontinued water fluoridation treatments last month.
- And in the Stuart, Fla., area, well owners are angry that they will be prohibited from using their own private wells in favor of the fluoridated water supplied by the city.
It all illustrates the once-contentious issue of fluoridation is back on the front burner.
What’s stirring the controversy? After all, fluoride proponents say, just look at the facts:
- The American Dentistry Association calls fluoridation of community water supplies “the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay” in its “Fluoridation Facts” brochure.
- The Centers for Disease Control lists fluoridation as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.
Approximately 170 million people in the U.S. drink water treated with fluoride. The ADA contends that community fluoridation reduces dental decay by 20-40 percent.
It has been going on throughout much of the United States for a half century, say proponents. So what’s the problem?
Sweden’s Dr. Arvid Carlsson, the 2000 Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine, objects to the practice, saying that everyone reacts differently to medication and what is beneficial for one person may be harmful for another. He calls community fluoridation “obsolete.”
Opponents like Carlsson point out that each person drinks a different amount of water, meaning dosage cannot be controlled, and could become toxic for someone who drinks more water. Add to that variable the widespread use of fluoride toothpastes by the American public and the fact that much of the food supply is grown or raised using fluoridated water, and you can see the great potential for overdosing, they say.
A study released in February by the Collaborative on Health and the Environments Learning and Development Disabilities Initiative found excessive ingestion of fluoride can decrease thyroid hormone levels. It also cited a recent Chinese study that links lower IQ levels in children with fluoridated drinking water.
In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences found the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum standard for fluoride of 4 milligrams per liter could cause health problems such as dental fluorosis and weakened bones over a lifetime of consumption.
The EPA’s Headquarters Professionals Union, made up of scientists, lawyers and other professionals, also now opposes community fluoridation.
In January, the New York State Dental Journal reported fluoride overexposure is resulting in children developing tooth disorders including white spots, brownish discoloration and pitting. It also warned children 6 months to 3 years should consume no more than ¼ of a gram of fluoride per day – the equivalent of one 8 ounce glass of water in a fluoridated community.
And, despite the CDC’s conclusion that fluoridation is one of the greatest medical achievements of the 20th century, it recommends infant formulas should never be mixed with fluoridated water.
“The early studies that purported to show ingested fluoride reduced tooth decay were seriously flawed,” says Dr. Paul Connett, emeritus professor of environmental chemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and executive director of Fluoride Action Network. “There is no significant difference in tooth decay between fluoridated and non-fluoridated industrialized countries. The vast majority of countries are not fluoridated.”
Indeed, opposition to the kind of widespread fluoridation American communities launched in the 1960s is becoming an international movement.
“The days of wholesale deliberate fluoridation … are numbered,” said Warren Bell, former head of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
The anti-fluoride activists make their case effectively by telling consumers to read the U.S. government’s own warnings regarding toothpastes and mouthwashes containing fluoride. They include:
- “Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age.”
- “If you swallow more than used for brushing, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”
- “If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Centre right away.”
- “Never give fluoridated mouthwash or mouth rinses to children under six years of age, as they may swallow it.”
- “Use non-fluoridated toothpaste or no toothpaste for young children.”
While few would argue that topical application of minute amounts of fluoride on teeth would reduce cavities, deliberately ingesting it – even in trace amounts – is risky.
The fluoride added to public drinking water is actually fluorosilic acid. It is described by critics as an industrial waste product. Supporters prefer to call it an industry byproduct. Most of it has come from Florida’s phosphate fertilizer industry.
Florida’s phosphate rock is about 3.5 percent fluorine. To make phosphoric acid for fertilizer, the rock is mixed with sulfuric acid. The mixture produces a gas called silicon tetrafluoride. The gas is sent through ductwork and a water scrubber to create fluorosilic acid, a clear liquid that in high concentrations is toxic. The acid is what fertilizer companies sell as a fluoride additive.
However, one of the little-known effects of Hurricane Katrina was to cripple the production of fluoride. Since then, more of America’s supply of the controversial chemical is coming from China – a country not always known for the highest safety standards on exports.
Just because you live in a municipality that does not fluoridate doesn’t mean you are safe from the effects of fluoridation, say critics. For instance, children in non-fluoridated communities consume sodas and beverages bottled in fluoridated localities using fluoridated water. This is known in fluoridation debate circles as “the halo effect.” Grapes and grape products, teas and processed chicken can be high in fluoride because of water used in processing and preparation.
Fluoridation is not just a community issue. Some states – including big ones like California – mandate their towns and cities fluoridate their water supplies.
Another major source of fluoride intake for children is swallowed toothpaste. Fluoride toothpaste contains about 1000 ppm fluoride. While adults on average ingest 3 percent of the toothpaste they use for brushing, 2-year-old children, in one study, swallowed a mean of 65 percent of the toothpaste they brushed with. It was found that many small children don’t even rinse after brushing.
If you’re not sure if this is truly a dangerous practice, just ask your vet about using fluoride treatments on your dog. You will be advised against it because dogs swallow the fluoride.
In 1965, a landmark year in the fluoridation debate, the federal government determined fluoride was safe in drinking water at levels as high as 4 ppm. Officially, that is still the government’s threshold of safety on the high side. Yet, in 2006, the National Research Council determined 4 ppm was unsafe and couldn’t assert with certitude that even half that level was safe.
On the basis of the NRC’s review, the Georgia-based Lillie Center last year filed an ethics complaint against the CDC Division of Oral Health. In its complaint the center charged the CDC with “mislead[ing] the public concerning the results of studies about harm from ingesting fluoride,” and “omit[ting] vital information in its information disseminated to the public concerning vulnerable population groups that are particularly susceptible to harm from fluoride.”