Restaurants, schools and society have accepted that some people are allergic to peanuts and have accommodated their needs through needed regulations and protocols.
And doctors, nurses and the medical community have taken steps to protect patients who are hyper sensitive to penicillin.
So why, asks Carole Clinch, research co-ordinator for People for Safe Drinking Water, are politicians, dentists and the rest of society reluctant to accept that fluoridated drinking water may not be good for the public?
During a presentation last week to the Conserver Society of Hamilton and District’s Annual General Meeting, Ms. Clinch said that between one to four per cent of people are hypersensitive to fluoride. Yet government agencies, the medical community and the media have for years ignored the problem and instead touted fluoridation as a “miracle” cure for tooth decay, she said. But recent studies have suggested fluoridated water may contribute to some health-related issues.
Fluoridation has been called “one of the greatest achievements in public health in the 20th century,” by health advocates, and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Post-war communities followed the advice of the medical and dental communities, and supported municipalities pouring fluoride into their drinking water supply.
But over the last 10 years studies are now suggesting that maybe fluoridation has some detriments to the population.
Ms. Clinch, who is part of a Kitchener-Waterloo group seeking to eliminate fluoridation in municipal drinking water, said that studies over the years have linked fluoridation to dental fluorosis skeletal fluorosis, and even bone cancer.
They argue studies have found that fluorsilicates increases blood lead levels in people, and there are connections between high amounts of fluoride to skeletal fluorosis, kidney disease, diabetes and thyroid condition.
Ms. Clinch said she used to drink the fluoridated water from her municipality, aggravating her thyroid condition. By eliminating her water intake, and by using iodine properly her condition was all but eliminated, she said.
One of the problems with fluoride is, opponents argue, it’s a chemical. Most fluoridated communities in Ontario use hydrofluorisilica acid to deliver fluoride into the drinking water. HFSA’s derived compounds, said Ms. Clinch, includes sodium fluoride, hydrogen fluoride are byproducts of the phosphate and fertilizer industries.
A 1999 study called Benefits and Risks of Water Fluoridation” An Update of the 1996 Federal-Provincial Subcommittee Report, conducted by Dr. David Locker of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto for the Ontario Health Ministry which reviewed recent studies, noted that fluoride “is a poison in large doses, but toxic levels cannot be achieved by drinking fluoridated water.”
Opponents to fluoridation say people, especially children, are consuming too much fluoride, contributing to the higher rates of dental fluorosis, through fluoridated toothpastes, food and soft drinks.
Dr. Locker acknowledges dental fluorosis has increased in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities. North American studies suggest rates of dental fluorosis has jumped between 20 per cent to 75 per cent in fluoridated communities and 12 per cent to 45 per cent in non-fluoridated communities.
Those studies noted that dental fluorosis is increasing in frequency among children. Dental fluorosis, which the Canadian Dental Association states on its website is not health threatening and it is “mainly a cosmetic condition”, occurs when white specks appears on a child’s teeth when they are consuming too much fluoride.
It proves, fluoridation opponents argue, that to be successful fluoride should only be applied on the teeth, and it doesn’t have to be swallowed.
“Topical fluoride is effective,” said Ms. Clinch. “Fluoride is not effective in preventing cavities.”
Health Canada, through a joint federal-provincial committee oversees the amount of fluoride contained in the country’s drinking water systems. The optimum level of fluoride is between 0.8 to 1.0 parts per million.
Dr. Locke states the maximum intake was based on consumption of water at 1.6 ppm before moderate fluorosis appeared. He pointed out the optimum level for fluoride intake is also based on data made years ago when there was no other sources of fluoride.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Dental Association, in a paper written by Euan Swann, stated that combined with external fluoride intake, to prevent dental fluorosis daily intake should not exceed 0.05 to 0.07 mg per body weight.
The CDA recommends brushing with a pea-size amount of toothpaste twice a day, with a minimum amount of water to rinse. Children should be supervised, the CDA website states.
Yet opponents of fluoride, such as Waterloo Watch, and the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) state a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste contains the same amount of fluoride as a glass of fluoridated water.
Dr. Locker noted that efforts should be required to reduce fluoride intake among “the most vulnerable age group” particularly children age 7 months to 4 years.
“Canadian studies do not provide systemic evidence that water fluoridation is effective in reducing decay in contemporary child populations,” stated the report.
The Ontario Dental Association states on its website that fluoride is “an important mineral for the prevention of tooth decay. It strengthens the enamel of young developing teeth and acts with calcium and phosphorous to restore and harden enamel in mature teeth.”
Dr. Peter Wiebe, manager of the city’s dental programs, said there is no evidence to indicate a direct link between fluoride and any other disease, including cancer and kidney problems.
Dr. Locker stated that of the few studies on the health effects “there is no reason to believe that exposure to fluoridated water increases the risk of cancer in bones or other body tissues.”
Dr. Wiebe stated targeting fluoride programs, especially to poor children, while possibly more effective, will also be extremely expensive for the city.
The beneficiaries of fluoridated water are children in families living below the poverty line, he said. Studies have indicated a link between children who live under the poverty line and tooth decay.
Hamilton began putting fluoride into its water in 1966 after holding a referendum. In Ontario, about 70 per cent of the population, or about 8.7 million people drink fluoridated water.
Ms. Clinch, along with a few of her colleagues, appeared before Hamilton’s Board of Health urging councillors to stop the city from fluoridating its water.
She said about 97 per cent of European countries have chosen fluoride-free water, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Scotland and Sweden. Fluoride remains in the water supplies in Australia, parts of England, and parts of the United States.
Other jurisdictions, including the Niagara Region in January, rejected in a 15 to 9 vote to add fluoride to the entire area. Welland, Pelham and parts of Thorold have had fluoride in their water systems at various times, she said.
She said legal action by citizens are taking place against some provinces in Australia and the U.S. to remove fluoride from their water system.
“The legal action is increasing as the evidence piles up,” she said.
Ms. Clinch said it would be “nice” if Canadian dental associations accepted the growing evidence against fluoridation. But, she said, it’s municipalities, which control the water systems to their residents, that must make the decision to stop using fluoride.
“Municipalities are responsible ethically and morally, for fluoride,” she said.
Hamilton’s Board of Health, whose members were sympathetic to Ms. Clinch’s arguments, last fall asked city staff to examine alternative options to provide fluoride to residents. They also asked for staff to provide a cost estimate to create a new fluoride program and review the data on the pros and cons of pouring fluoride into the city’s drinking water. The report is scheduled to be before the Board of Health within a few months.
If fluoride was removed from the city’s taps, it could save Hamilton about $600,000 per year in maintenance and operation costs.
“Water systems are being destroyed,” said Ms. Clinch.
But the process to remove the chemical could take some time. The city would have to apply to the Ontario Environment Ministry to get Hamilton’s certificate of approval changed, a process that could take between six months to a year, said Jim Harnum, senior director of water and wastewater.
Ms. Clinch said if residents don’t want to wait for the city to take action, there are two ways for them to remove fluoride from their water system. One is to filter it by using a reverse osmosis system, but the filter can be expensive to purchase. The other method is through distillation.
Even buying bottled water won’t assure you are not drinking fluoridated water, she said. People must read the label, but also talk to the distributor to make sure the water doesn’t contain fluoride.
“Bottled water is no guarantee you won’t have fluoride,” she said.
“But the simple solution is not to put fluoride in any water systems at all.”