Eighty-four people from 23 states, DC and 3 provinces in Canada, gathered over the weekend of July 29-30 to attend the Second Citizens’ Conference on Fluoride. The conference was held on the beautiful campus of St. Lawrence University in Canton, located in Northern New York State.
In addition to several other important speakers, the audience at this 2-day conference heard at length from three members of the National Research Council (Dr. Bob Isaacson, Dr. Kathleen Thiessen and Dr. Hardy Limeback) which on March 22, 2006 had published a 450 page review entitled “Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards”. The NRC panel concluded that the current safe drinking water standards were not protective of health and that the MCLG (Maximum Contaminant Level Goal) of 4 ppm should be lowered. The NRC called on the US EPA to carry out a health risk assessment to determine what that new MCLG should be. It was this panel’s findings and recommendations which largely shaped the conference.
The conference opened on Saturday morning with a presentation by Dr. Kathleen Thiessen who gave an overview of the multiple risks fluoride poses to the endocrine system, including the thyroid and parathyroid glands, the pineal gland and the pancreas. According to Dr. Thiessen, and the NRC report, there is sufficient scientific evidence to classify fluoride as an “endocrine disrupter”, although more research needs to be conducted to determine the doses, circumstances, and mechanisms that cause the effects. (Read transcript of FAN’s interview with Dr. Thiessen)
Thiessen’s talk was followed by part 1 of Dr. Bob Isaacson’s two talks on the brain. In the first part Isaacson gave an overview of the evolution and functioning of the brain and in the second part he addressed some the specific actions of fluoride on the brain and several other systems. This included a discussion of his own group’s findings (Varner et al, 1998) that rats exposed to fluoride in their water at 1 ppm had an increased uptake of aluminum into their brains along with the formation of beta amyloid deposits characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. According to Isaacson, “our studies show that very, very low doses of aluminum fluoride, and sodium fluoride, have extraordinarily important negative effects upon the operation of the brain.” Isaacson concluded his presentation with evidence supporting an association between exposure to fluoridated water and Down’s syndrome births among young mothers.
Between the two parts of Dr. Isascson’s talk on the brain, Chris Neurath gave an overview of the studies exploring the possible association between fluoride and cancer, particularly the association with childhood osteosarcoma, a rare but frequently fatal bone cancer. Neurath’s presentation culminated with a discussion of Elise Bassin’s thesis at Harvard in 2001 and its eventual publication in May 2006. Neurath gave some of the specifics of FAN’s discovery of Bassin’s thesis and how her adviser at the Harvard Dental School, Professor Chester Douglass, had tried to keep her findings hidden from the scientific community and his funders. Neurath responded to some of the criticisms of Bassin’s thesis and explained the more serious limitations of the long-awaited study by Douglass, Hoover and Whitford, which is still not published but is widely seen as an attempt to “counter” Bassin’s findings.
On Saturday afternoon, Dr. Donald Taves gave a presentation on how to break the impasse on the fluoridation debate. Taves has been involved in the fluoridation issue for over 50 years, first as a health officer in California, then as a researcher at the University of Rochester and then as a commentator. He authored the fluoride section on the National Academy of Sciences report “Drinking Water and Health” in 1977. In his presentation, Taves outlined the studies he felt would prove once and for all whether fluoridation was safe and effective. Based on the available evidence, Taves said he does not think new fluoridation programs should be promoted where they do not currently exist, although he’s not yet convinced that fluoridation programs already in place should be terminated.
Following Taves, a panel of dentists (Dr. Bill Osmunsen, Dr. David Kennedy and Dr. Hardy Limeback) explained how they moved from their previous pro-fluoridation positions to being officially opposed to the practice.
The first day concluded with a presentation by Jeff Green. Jeff is the Executive Director of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water. He described the methods and rationale for the “safe drinking water” initiatives being pursued in different parts of the country. He explained that these initiatives did not focus on fluoride specifically but rather on “the inalienable right of citizens to clean water” and the legal requirements that need to be instituted when it comes to adding anything to the water designed to treat people rather than the water itself.
Sunday began with a moving opening ceremony conducted by Henry Lickers, a biologist and Director of the Akwesasne Environmental Task Force. The first scientific presentation was then given by Dr. Hardy Limeback, who is Head of Preventive Dentistry at the University of Toronto, a former President of the Canadian Association for Dental Research, and a practicing dentist as well. After describing the harassment he received after publicly changing his position on fluoridation, Limeback discussed the damage fluoride causes to both teeth and bone.
Following Limeback’s presentation, the three NRC panel members were joined by several other participants (Dr. Albert Burgstahler; Dr. William Hirzy; FAN researcher Chris Neurath; Dr. Donald Taves and Dr. Paul Connett) for a two hour discussion on the relevance of their review to the issue of water fluoridation. All participants in this discussion were in agreement that – contrary to assertions made by the CDC and the ADA – the NRC report was extremely relevant to water fluoridation. Both Limeback and Isaacson recommended a new MCLG of zero and Thiessen discussed standard margin of safety calculations which would yield a new MCLG less than 1 ppm for several of the end points discussed in the NRC review, particularly for lowered thyroid function.
On Sunday afternoon, Dr. Ella Haley, who teaches sociology in Alberta, recounted her long involvement with fluoride pollution from the phosphate fertilizer industry. She wrote her PhD thesis on the topic and for several years has helped an impacted community in Alberta. She was followed by Henry Lickers, who described both the physical and cultural damage that fluoride emissions from nearby Aluminum smelters had wreaked on the Akwesasne nation on Cornwall island which is located in the St. Lawrence River between the US and Canada.
Next Dr William Hirzy, who is Vice-President of the Union that represents professionals at the EPA HQ in DC, explained the need for Congress to become involved in investigating the reasons why civil servants at the CDC continue to avidly promote water fluoridation even while more and more evidence mounts of the dangers of this practice. He also stressed the need to support his union’s call for the EPA to conduct an honest reassessment of the MCLG for fluoride and do it in a timely manner.
Hirzy was followed by Michael Connett, who discussed the controversy over the EPA’s recent approval of Dow AgroSciences’ use of sulfuryl fluoride as a fumigant on food in warehouses and processing plants. Connett explained that sulfuryl fluoride breaks down to free fluoride ion and as a result the EPA had approved very large new tolerances (residues) to accommodate this use. These include 70 ppm on all processed foods, 130 ppm on wheat flour, and 900 ppm on powdered eggs. Connett further explained that the health risk assessment conducted by the EPA on these tolerances was based entirely on the safety of the MCLG of 4 ppm, which the NRC panel has described as unprotective of health. Connett also explained how the EPA Pesticide Division manipulated the MCLG, “making a bad standard even worse,” by increasing the allowable safe dosage for children twice during their risk assessment, resulting in a safe dosage for infants that is ten times higher than it was previously, and ten times higher than it currently is for adults. Connett concluded by giving the details of the petition by FAN, the Environmental Working Group and Beyond Pesticides to revoke EPA’s approval of sulfuryl fluoride as a food fumigant.
Then Cathy Justus, a horse farmer from Pagosa Springs, Colorado, explained the health problems (including debilitating colic and arthritis) that her horses experienced after water in her community was fluoridated. Her talk was illustrated with some disturbing photos and video.
The Sunday sessions were completed by Dr. Deborah Moore, the Director of Second Look. She explained some of the recent activities of her group including the Fluoride Toxicity Research Collaborative. Moore introduced Aliss Terpstra who is part of that collaborative. Aliss was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the first city in the US to fluoridate its water. She currently resides in Toronto. Both she and her children have experienced health problems from fluoride exposures, and she explained how the vast majority of doctors are completely ignorant of the damage that fluoride can cause to those, like her, who are hypersensitive to this substance. She concluded by giving the details of the Fluoride Illness Handbook she is putting together to help both afflicted citizens and doctors understand their symptoms, so that this condition can be recognized more quickly and treated more rationally.
Finally the meeting came to an end with a closing ceremony by Henry Lickers.
In summary, I think it’s fair to say that this conference lived up to its endorsement from consumer Ralph Nader. According to a statement issued before the conference, Nader wrote:
“Attendance of scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and three of the National Research Council’s panel members, among others, makes the Fluoride Action Network’s conference more than ordinary. The NRC’s review of the EPA’s safe drinking water standards and the Harvard study on fluoridation and osteosarcoma this past May provide contemporary material for opening the public debate further and deeper…. May this conference do so with the open mind that is the essence of the scientific attitude and the underlying principles of democratic decision-making in the open.”