Last week’s election results in Portland suggest the issue of fluoridated water remains one of the most contentious public health issues of our time. While the initiative failed 40 percent to 60 percent (after nearly a million dollars spent on both sides), it highlighted a startling fact: Portland, the 28th largest American city, remains the largest American city that doesn’t add fluoride to its drinking water. Despite widespread fluoridation, however, fluoride is not nearly as safe as its proponents claim.
In March 2006, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies of Science released a groundbreaking 530-page report on fluoride toxicity. After three years of research, they concluded exposure to fluoridated water can cause damage to teeth (“severe enamel fluorosis”), bones (“skeletal fluorosis”), the endocrine system (“decreased thyroid function… and possible effects on timing of sexual maturity”), and the brain (“IQ deficits in children exposed to fluoride”), as well as an increased risk of bone cancer. Their overwhelming conclusion was that more research was needed to further investigate their findings. Despite this—in direct contradiction of the precautionary principal—fluoride continues to be dumped into our nation’s water supply.
Corvallis residents, who have seen fluoride added to our water since 1952, are among the 25 percent of Oregonians who drink fluoridated water. This is in stark contrast to a whopping 72 percent of citizens nationwide who are exposed to fluoridated water… making America by far the most fluoridated nation on Earth. In 1992, 56 percent of Americans drank fluoridated water.
Yet, analysis of news coverage of Portland’s failed fluoride initiative shows how limited the discussion is in the mainstream press, with opponents of fluoridation often painted as “against the science” while supporters of adding the chemical to the water supply are deemed concerned crusaders for the dental health of poor children. Mainstream press coverage never delves into the sheer volume of scientific evidence showing a panoply of alarming health effects associated with fluoride exposure.
A 1980 study of Tanzinian children exposed to high levels of fluoride found “excessive fluoride ingestion in pregnant women may possibly poison and alter enzyme and hormonal systems in the fetus.” A 1994 study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health determined: “A review of fluoride toxicity showed decreased fertility in most animal species studied.” Specifically analyzing human populations, they found: “Most regions showed an association of decreasing TFR [annual total fertility rate] with increasing fluoride levels.”
Even the American Dental Association—while vigorously supporting water fluoridation—quietly noted in a 2011 report that “Consumption of infant formula may be associated with an increased risk of developing enamel fluorosis… associated with the fluoride concentration in the drinking water.” They go on to suggest parents may want to consider using non-fluoridated water when mixing baby formula, to avoid fluorosis.
The ADA insists, however, that fluorosis is harmless, merely aesthetically unpleasant—completely ignoring a number of studies which show it to be extremely damaging to both tooth enamel and bones. A 1990 Israeli study, for instance, found: “The decay rate in the permanent dentition [teeth] gradually increased with increasing fluorosis severity.” A 1986 study, published in Progress in Food and Nutrition Science, stated: “Endemic skeletal fluorosis is a chronic metabolic bone and joint disease caused by ingesting large amounts of fluoride… a cumulative toxin.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with regulating fluoride in tap water, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates it in bottled water, toothpaste, etc., and legally defines it as a drug. The EPA admits, “Exposure to excessive consumption of fluoride over a lifetime may lead to increased likelihood of bone fractures in adults, and may result in effects on bone leading to pain and tenderness. Children aged eight and younger exposed to excessive amounts of fluoride have an increased chance of developing pits in the tooth enamel, along with a range of cosmetic effects to teeth.”
Despite personal consumption of tap water varying widely from person to person, the EPA has set a standard enforceable regulation for fluoride, called a maximum contaminant level (MCL), at 4.0 mg/L or 4.0 ppm (parts per million), and a secondary limit (nonenforceable guideline) at 2.0 mg/L or 2.0 ppm. The US Public Health Service (PHS) recommends an “optimally adjusted concentration of fluoride” in community drinking water at concentration ranges from 0.7 ppm to 1.2 ppm. (Corvallis adds 0.7 ppm of fluoride to our water). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) insists, “Scientists have found a lack of evidence to show an association between water fluoridation and a negative impact on people, plants, or animals.”
Why are the organizations which are supposed to protect us so ignorant of the dangers of fluoride? Documents uncovered by journalists Joel Griffiths and Chris Bryson in their landmark article “Fluoride, Teeth, and the Atomic Bomb” show the original studies in the mid-1940s, which vouched for the safety of fluoride, were actually preemptive moves by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Manhattan Project against a lawsuit by New Jersey farmers who saw their crops destroyed and livestock killed by fluoride leaked from a du Pont chemical plant during World War II. Fluoride was a crucial component of the Manhattan Project developing the first atomic bombs. Fearing huge financial liabilities, the government hurriedly compiled “evidence” showing the chemical which had destroyed the farms was really beneficial after all. The repercussions of this subversion of justice continue to this day, in unique and disparate ways.
In 1997, Dr. Jennifer Luke at the University of Surrey in the UK found “astronomically high levels of fluoride” when examining pineal glands of cadavers, and further determined fluoride exposure likely leads to earlier onset of puberty. This corroborates the Newburgh vs. Kingston fluoridation trial of 1945-1955, which found girls in Newbergh, England, which fluoridated its water, reached menstruation five months earlier on average than girls in Kingston, which did not fluoridate. It’s a well-known modern phenomenon that kids are entering puberty earlier and earlier every year, while municipal water fluoridation spreads to more and more cities and towns.
An often-cited study by Harvard University’s School of Dental Medicine found a significant increase in osteosarcoma—a rare form of bone cancer—among five- to ten-year-old boys who drank fluoridated water. In a disturbing twist, the lead researcher in the $1.3 million study, Dr. Chester Douglass, publicly mischaracterized his own findings, claiming no link between fluoride and osteosarcoma was found. His deceit was uncovered by a doctoral student, Elise Bassin, and an investigation of Dr. Douglass was conducted by the university, distraught by his blatant conflicts of interest. It turns out Dr. Douglass also served as editor-in-chief of the Colgate Care Report, a publication funded directly by the fluoride industry.
Conflicts of interest, it turns out, are rampant on the pro-fluoride side. The American Dental Association—whose members’ financial livelihood is inexorably linked to the health of the nation’s teeth—insists: “Studies conducted throughout the past 65 years have consistently shown that fluoridation of community water supplies is safe and effective in preventing dental decay in both children and adults. Simply by drinking water, children and adults can benefit from fluoridation’s cavity protection whether they are at home, work, or school.”
Yet, a 1993 analysis of World Health Organization data, published in the Journal of the International Society of Fluoride Research, found: “In most of the countries the relationship tends to be direct rather than inverse: dental caries [cavities] increases as water fluoride increases. That finding conflicts with the widespread belief, based on highly selected data in the early studies of Dean and others, that drinking water fluoride reduces dental caries as the fluoride concentration increases toward the claimed “optimum” of one part per million (ppm). But our finding is in accord with some other studies…” Such as a 2001 report, published in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, which concluded “…results suggest a positive association between high F [fluoride] levels in the drinking water and dental caries…”
As far back as 1970, an Austrian study published in the Journal of the International Society for Fluoride Research found “…a higher F intake does not represent a genuine inhibition of caries but leads to a disturbance in the development of teeth. With fluoridation, the caries incidence is accelerating at a certain point of time compared with that without fluoridation…”
Overwhelmed by the science, a few US dentists are rebelling against ADA dogma. In 2007, Bill Osmunson of Aesthetic Dentistry in Lake Oswego, in an article arguing against Oregon House Bill 3099—which would’ve mandated fluoridation statewide—wrote: “Current research is clear, the benefits of fluoridation are limited—if any—and the risks significant. While the lack of fluoridation’s benefit is not the prevailing view among US dentists, most European dental associations are keeping up to date with the science and no longer recommend fluoridation or fluoride supplements.”
Indeed, studies have shown incidences of cavities decreasing over the past 25 years in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland—none of which fluoridate their water.
And yet, despite the bizarre notion of putting even a beneficial chemical into the public water supply—where dosing varies widely depending on personal water usage, so therefore cannot be controlled or standardized—the prevailing mainstream consensus insists fluoride simply must be safe, completely ignoring evidence suggesting otherwise.
The hardworking public servants who meticulously filter raw Williamette River water into Corvallis’ clean, pure drinking water remain neutral on the issue of fluoridation. It’s their job, once they’ve finally gotten the water sparkling clean, to then add fluoride—from large bags labeled “toxic”—to our water supply, and they do so carefully, wearing protective hazardous materials gear. As long as the City of Corvallis, at the behest of its citizens, maintains that fluoride should be added to the water, they’ll continue doing their duty and adding it.
At the end of Brian DePalma’s brilliant movie The Untouchables, Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness character is asked by an intrepid reporter what he’ll do if Prohibition is repealed: “I think I’ll have a drink,” Costner deadpans. The men who work hard to protect and purify our water will continue doing their job, mixing the notorious chemical into our drinking water, as has been done for 61 years. It’s not up to them to make the change. It’s up to us.
For a comprehensive list of scientific studies concerning fluoride, visit: http://www.slweb.org/bibliography.html
By Seth Aronson