By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Last week the federal government announced a plan to reduce the safe upper limit for fluoride in drinking water, to help protect children from the disfiguring marks or mottling of teeth that occurs with overexposure to the mineral.
Fluoride has been added to public drinking supplies in the U.S. for decades, at the behest of dental experts who claim it helps reduce cavities.
But opponents of fluoridation — which now affects about 70 percent of the U.S. population — say its risks outweigh the possible benefits. In addition, they say, recent science shows that topical fluoride treatments work best to strengthen tooth enamel, rendering fluoridation unnecessary.
Following last week’s announcement, the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) issued a statement saying the new proposed fluoride levels were neither protective of teeth, nor safe for developing brains. FAN argued that more than 100 studies have shown that fluoride damages animal brains, and 24 studies show an association between moderate to high fluoride ingestion and lowered IQs in children.
The New York-based group, which counts dozens of health professionals among its ranks, urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to find out the scientific truth about fluoride — and to resist political pressure from another wing of government, the dental division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The EPA sets the levels for contaminants in water, and is reviewing whether the upper limit for fluoride as a contaminant (4 milligrams per liter) should be lowered. The new limit proposed last week deals with a different set of guidelines set by the Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees fluoride’s use as an “additive” in water. HHS is proposing that water systems lower fluoride levels to .7 mg per liter from the previous upper limit of 1.7 mg per liter.
(If this is confusing, just remember that government’s position is that a little bit of fluoride in the water is good and that too much is bad — just like say too much table salt is bad, but a little is good. HHS is proposing to lower the level that is deliberately added to municipal waters in the name of strengthening tooth enamel in an effort to set an “optimal” level of fluoride. The EPA, meanwhile, watches out for fluoride as a “contaminant”, and sets the upper limit that’s considered dangerous to human health.)
FAN members say they are watching both the HHS and the EPA, but especially the EPA because they believe that due diligence would show that the safe level for fluoride must be set very low. Opponents worry, though, that both federal agencies could continue to support the CDC’s entrenched promotion of fluoridation, essentially to save face.
If that happens, the FAN statement said, it would be a “betrayal of the American trust.”
FAN’s Jan. 8 statement also noted that the HHS announcement did not mention that the fluoride typically dumped into city drinking water systems is a byproduct of the phosphate fertilizer industry.
“This is the first time in the history of mankind that highly hazardous waste has been shown to have health benefits, yet no toxicological studies have been performed on them,” FAN said.
With fluoride opponents unappeased by the government’s plan to step-down the levels of fluoride in water, we asked Dr. Paul Connett, director of FAN and co-author of the just released The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There, for more details on the group’s position. He responded to our questions in writing.
Q: I take it that FAN will not be satisfied with a reduction of fluoride levels in drinking water? You view any level as potentially harmful?
A: Absolutely. We won’t be satisfied until this foolish practice is eliminated from the face of the earth. Even promoters like the CDC (1999) admit fluoride’s predominant action is TOPICAL – so why swallow it when you can brush it on your teeth and spit it out? Swallowing it means you receive few if any benefits but you get all the risks. In addition, it is both ridiculous and unethical to use the water supply to deliver medication. It forces it on people who don’t want it. You cannot control dose or who gets it and individual response is not monitored. Moreover, in the case of fluoride there is practically no margin of safety between the so-called ‘beneficial” dose and the toxic dose – which would demand very careful control of dose, which you cannot control merely by controlling the concentration at the waterworks..
Please note the level of fluoride in mothers’ milk is 0.004 ppm. This means a bottle fed baby in a fluoridated town gets 175 times more fluoride than a breast fed one. That is not a sensible thing to do.
Q: So is it FAN’s position that the government is still doing too little, or remains wrongheaded even, about fluoridation?
Yes to both.
Q: Why do you think the federal government won’t come off of its official support for fluoridation, at whatever level?
Fluoridation since 1945 has been the gravy train as far as dental researchers are concerned. Fluoridation began in 1945 and the National Institute for Dental Research was opened in 1948. Many of the scientists involved in pioneering fluoridation ended up in prominent positions in this body. Fluoridation is the backbone as far as research dollars and prestige is concerned for public health dentistry.
The government people who continue to push this – mainly the CDC – have a huge amount of their reputations and credibility at stake. Public health measures require the public’s trust – losing fluoridation could threaten other public health policies.
It is also important to note that when we talk about the CDC promoting fluoridation we are not talking about the whole of the CDC being involved – we are talking about the Oral Health Division of the CDC -that consists of approximately 30 people largely dentally trained. The CDC Oral Health Division is the Tweedledum to the ADA’s [American Dental Society’s] Tweedledee. They work together promoting this nonsense – and now protecting their rear ends. Note this quote from the ADA’s eGram to its members from last Friday:
“HHS has asked the ADA and its members to help minimize any concerns and reassure the public that water fluoridation is a safe and effective way to prevent dental disease.”
[Connett forwarded the ADA’s “eGram” in full, to show that the government has assured dentists that it still supports “optimal water fluoridation” and that the HHS proposal is simply a recalibration of safe levels. In the memo, the ADA reassures its members that it will “continue advocating for communities to fluoridate their water at the new optimal level.”]
In addition to a loss of professional credibility the ADA has to fear law suits when even one health effect is proved enough to convince a jury – they have their seal of approval stamped over all dental products containing fluoride.
Q: Despite the inadequacy of the federal action at this time, do you think their budging off the previous hard stance, is a sign that the U.S. government will eventually remove or stop its endorsement of putting fluoride in water?
The events of Friday Jan 7 have a lot do with our efforts on sulfuryl fluoride – on which we received a stunning victory on Monday Jan 10. [See the story on sulfuryl fluoride, a fumigant that leaves traces of fluoride on many processed foods, raising the amount of fluoride Americans are ingesting.]
If only the EPA Office of Water could be forced to do an honest job on determining a new safe drinking standard or rather MCLG for fluoride – maximum contaminant level goal – fluoridation is all over.
An honest job will require an MCLG less than 1 – even 0. At that point it would end fluoridation. The EPA water division has dragged its feet on this for nearly 5 years; (NRC (the National Research Council) recommended that they determine a new MCLG March 22, 2006).
Q: Is this the beginning of the end of fluoridation?
Yes, if science is allowed to rule over politics on this matter.
Q: What do you think has triggered this change?
I think the advent of Internet has helped. Much of the sordid history of this practice has been hidden from the public now it is being made very visible. So we have the following helping:
- Our science-based webpage: www.FluorideAlert.org – see particularly the health data base and the Latest News sections.
The promoters have used two tactics to push fluoridation on an ill-informed public – endorsements instead of reference to the scientific literature – and ridicule of opponents (Dr. Strangelove etc).
- The 28-minute DVD “Professional Perspectives on Water Fluoridation.” 15 scientists – some prominent – explain why this is a bad idea.
- Our book – “The Case Against Fluoride” – written by three scientists. No hyperbole – fully referenced every fact backed up.
- The Professionals’ statement calling for an end to fluoridation worldwide – already signed by over 3200 professionals. Not nearly enough but growing by the day. [Signers include dentists, doctors and Nobel Laureates.]
Q: Does it surprise or anger you that the CDC, EPA and HHS all still refer to fluoride treatments and fluoridation as a good idea, something that has worked — despite evidence that it might never have been a good idea?
Yes. I think the vast majority of the rank-and-file doctors and dentists who support fluoridation do so not because they have read the literature but because they trust their professional bodies and governmental health bodies like the CDC and state health departments. But only a few people at the top of these are controlling the flow of information down the chains of command. For those at the top to continue to promote the notion that fluoridation is both “safe” and “effective” – even though they must certainly know by now that the evidence of any benefit from swallowing fluoride is very weak – and also know that there are many red flags being waved on dangers- is a massive betrayal of the public’s trust. That does make me angry.
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