From Green Right Now Reports

A new study of hydrofluorosilicic acid (HFSA) finds that this compound, which is dumped into city water systems across the country to fluoridate drinking water, contains varying but measurable levels of arsenic.

fluorosis, serious,  CDC

A serious case of fluoridosis, indicating over exposure to fluoride. (Photo: CDC)

“Arsenic levels in this HFSA product vary substantially but are typically about 30-35 mg/kg,” wrote two former EPA scientists Drs. William Hirzy and Robert Carton in a paper published in the Environmental Science & Policy.

The study found HFSA raised the arsenic level of finished or tap water by anywhere from 0.078 to 0.43 parts per billion (ppb).

Arsenic has been ruled a carcinogen by the EPA, which reports it has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.

The EPA lists the Maximum Contaminant Level for arsenic at .010 parts per million (10 parts per billion), that’s far above what the HFSA contributed to drinking water in the study.

But arsenic also gets into drinking water from soil, rocks and groundwater sources. It all adds up, and some cities in the U.S.West, Midwest and New England have city systems that test above 10 ppb because of geographic “hot spots”, according to the EPA. Trace levels of arsenic also turned up in tests of rice products last year, many domestically grown, according to Consumer Reports.

The EPA’s goal for arsenic in water would be to have zero ppm, because it is a known carcinogen.

Fluoride opponents say the arsenic levels in HFSA called out in the study are worrisome and avoidable.

“This study provides additional scientific evidence that fluoridation should be stopped, as the purported benefits no longer outweigh the risks,” said Dr. Paul Connett , director of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), which has supported dozens of U.S. cities that have stopped fluoridation in recent years.

FAN maintains that water fluoridation is unnecessary, fails to protect dental health and only creates multiple health risks (details below) that were unforeseen when the practice began in the mid-20th Century.

The group opposes using HFSA, an “industrial grade” product in fluoridation because it introduces impurities into drinking water. HSFA is obtained from the phosphate processing industry. It’s a byproduct of the scrubbing process used to filter smokestack emissions and avoid releases of toxic fluoride gases into the atmosphere.  FAN calls HSFA “toxic waste” because this solute is not purified. But the government classifies it as an industrial byproduct.

One potential solution to the problem of HFSA-related arsenic contamination would be to use a pharmaceutical grade compound, sodium fluoride, to fluoridate water, if cities still want to fluoridate, Hirzy and Carton said in the article.

Compared to sodium fluoride, HFSA contains from 100 to 500 times more arsenic, they wrote.

The vast majority of cities in the U.S., however, use the industrial HFSA because it costs less upfront. Only a small fraction have used an industrial form of sodium fluoride, said Chris Neurath, FAN’s research director.

Hirzy and Carton wrote that switching to the safer pharmaceutical-grade compound (NaF) — the type of fluoride used in toothpaste — could prevent cancers associated with arsenic exposure, potentially saving society $1 to $6 billion in health care costs.

“Our analysis shows that, if local governments that currently add HFSA to their drinking water wish to continue delivering fluoride to their citizens and at the same time reduce the number of lung and bladder cancers among their citizens, they could do so with a significant net benefit to society by switching to USP NaF [pharmaceutical grade Sodium Fluoride] for fluoridation,” they wrote.

FAN sees arsenic contamination as just one of many reasons to discontinue the fluoridation of drinking water.

Ingesting fluoride is not necessary to protect dental health, the group maintains, because that can be accomplished with top fluoride treatments, if consumers choose them. Fluoride in drinking water takes away consumer choice and studies have shown that it contributes to a host of health issues, in part because fluoride is also found in food, tea and dental products, raising human exposures above safe levels.

Neurath said FAN’s research and independent studies, notably a survey by the National Research Council in 2006,  have found that excessive exposure to fluoride:

  • Has raised the incidence of dental fluorosis (the U.S. Health and Human Services agrees), with more people having “moderate” and “severe” levels of mottling on teeth, indicating they have been adversely affected. This can require expensive cosmetic treatments.
  • Contributes to bone cancer
  • Has been shown to affect the thyroid, reducing thyroid function, a risk in people already prone to hypothyroidism
  • Weakens bones, according to some studies, especially among the elderly and those already at risk of debilitating hip fractures.
  • Contributes to early skeletal fluorosis, which mimics osteoarthritis, causing pain and disability
  • Lowers cognitive potential among children, affecting IQ and possibly behavior. (Studies in China have found lower IQs among children exposed to high levels of naturally occurring fluoride.)
Consumers of city water who want to know more about the chemical content of the fluoride being used should ask their city water officials, Neurath said. In some cases, the city may have done tests, though most do not.

Still raising the question could make a point.

“If people started making such requests, that would put pressure on cities to actually gather this information and confront the arsenic issue,” he said.