Sometimes it can be a tough for Oregon’s legislators to determine what the majority of the people they represent actually want. But as the debate over water fluoridation rages in Salem, legislators should remember that many Oregon communities have already voted against fluoridation.
Voters in Eugene have rejected fluoridation multiple times. People in Portland, Ashland, Bend and Hood River have also spoken up for clean water and said no to fluoridated water.
Despite these voter mandates, a bill requiring that fluoride be added to municipal drinking water is now being heard in Salem. House Bill 3099 would require fluoridation of municipal water in any city of more than 10,000 people. To further discourage any plans to opt out of such a requirement, HB 3099 specifically states that local governments may not “enact or enforce” any law that restricts water fluoridation.
While proposed amendments could allow a convoluted one-time chance for cities to reject fluoridation, there could not be a worse time for the state to push water fluoridation on Oregonians.
Fluoride applied topically to teeth to prevent decay has proven to be beneficial. However, consider this: Delivered to the entire body through every glass of water, every batch of homemade soup, every bottle of infant formula, fluoride is taken up by many organs, not just teeth. Fluoride has never been tested for safety in pregnant women, the elderly or children, particularly infants. The proposed bill comes on the heels of major new scientific evidence about the health threats of water fluoridation.
For example, a 2006 study by Harvard researchers that was published in Harvard’s cancer journal and funded by the National Institute of Health found that boys who drink fluoridated water face more than a 500 percent increased risk of bone cancer.
Similarly, a 450-page report by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science told the Environmental Protection Agency it needed to lower its contaminant levels for fluoride because the current standard of 4 parts per million posed a risk of increased fractures of bones and teeth. While drinking water is typically fluoridated at 1 part per million, the NRC detailed potential links between low concentration fluoride exposure and ailments ranging from Alzheimer’s and decreased childhood intelligence test scores to thyroid impairment and cancer.
Although fluoridation promoters claim this report has no relevance to water fluoridation, the report raises serious questions about the adverse effects of low level fluoride ingestion in drinking water. Three of the NRC’s panel members have publicly stated that the study has significant relevance to water fluoridation.
Even the American Dental Association, which promotes fluoridation, specifically cited to the NRC report in issuing a recent warning against using fluoridated water to mix infant formula because of the risk of over-fluoridation that can result in dental fluorosis (mottled discoloration of teeth.) The ADA representatives told an Oregon House Health subcommittee that mothers should just use bottled water to mix infant formula, but for low-income families this is simply not practical.
In the face of these major new developments, Oregon Sen. Alan Bates, who is the only doctor in the Oregon Senate and one of Oregon’s most respected legislators, recently wrote his fellow legislators to describe the new studies and urge them to vote against water fluoridation.
As explained by Bates, “There is a real need for additional scientific study, and until such studies are complete, scientific evidence tells us that any claimed benefits of water fluoridation do not justify the risks.”
We could not have said it any better ourselves.
Lisa Arkin of Eugene is executive director of the Oregon Toxics Alliance.