“There’s really no problem. You just have to be careful, because if you spill it, it will eat through your skin. It’s the same stuff they use for etching glass.”
Melvin Register wasn’t talking about acid he uses to clean his pool or drain cleaner to loosen gunk from his pipes. He was talking about hydrofluorosilic acid, better known as fluoride, which is added to Palatka’s drinking water.
Register, the water plant superintendent for Palatka, is not alone in the responsibility of adding fluoride to city water supplies. Approximately 75 percent of America’s municipalities add fluoride to their drinking water, most using hydrofluorosilic acid.
Hydrofluorosilic acid is an environmental waste product created by the mixture of water with two chemicals and collected in “wet scrubbers,” devices that catch pollutants before their emission by phosphate fertilizer plants. It is then sold to cities to be added to water supplies with the purpose of inhibiting tooth decay.
Some scientists and scholars think a link exists between fluoridation and osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, the slowing of the thyroid gland and the uptake of aluminum to the brain.
Controversy arose last year after it was revealed Harvard University dentistry professor and editor of the Colgate Company’s oral health newsletter, Chester Douglass, did not cite data indicating an increased risk of pre-adolescent boys acquiring osteosarcoma from drinking fluoridated water in a 2001 study.
Harvard launched an investigation into the matter after doctoral student Elise Bassin’s findings that boys who drank fluoridated water acquired the bone cancer more often than those who didn’t, were misrepresented in Douglass’ final report.
Following news of the study, 11 EPA labor unions requested that officials in their agency prohibit fluoridating water supplies. The EPA classifies hydrofluorosilic acid as hazardous waste.
Dr. William Hirzy, vice president of the EPA National Treasury Employees Union 208, led the union movement to have Congress and the EPA consider a moratorium on water fluoridation.
WHOLESALE DELIVERY OF MEDICATIONS?
Hirzy, who is senior scientist of risk assessment with the EPA’s Division of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, said fluoridation is essentially a delivery of medication to entire populations of Americans without consent. Hirzy spoke to the Daily News as a representative of his union.
“I don’t think fluoride has no role in oral health, but it has no role when delivered through the water supply,” Hirzy said.
“The front of the page (of Douglass’ report) said there was no connection between pre-adolescent boys and osteosarcoma, but a citation on the back dealt with research from Bassin, which it was learned found a sevenfold increase in osteosarcoma in the boys,” Hirzy said.
Hirzy said the EPA is waiting on a study by the National Research Council, which will include the study of Bassin’s findings, before deciding what action to take regarding fluoridation. He said the study should come out soon, but noted the council said it was coming out soon two years ago.
“While all these machinations goes on, lots of little boys are being exposed to fluoride and an increased risk of osteosarcoma. That’s why the EPA labor unions have taken the position they have.”
According to EPA spokesperson Dale Kemery, the agency does not take an official position on fluoridation.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection referred the Daily News to an “Open letter to a concerned citizen” stating hydrofluorosilic acid is typically free from lead, mercury and selenium, and includes trace amounts of other toxins. The letter instructs the reader to “think of the comparison of one penny to the total national debt to visualize the amount of impurities that may be in drinking water as a result of fluoride treatment.”
According to Register, Palatka adds fluoride to its water at a rate of .08 to 1.0 parts per one million gallons of water, in adherence with state regulations. He said the range is based on Florida’s average temperature and the amount of water it is estimated the average person will drink in a day. The range recommended by the federal government is .07 to 1.2 ppm.
Crescent City also adds the acid to its water supply at a rate of 0.8 to 1.0 ppm. According to City Manager Marcus Collins, the chemical arrives in a 55-gallon drum and is injected continuously into the city’s discharge piping. The chemical is added to the Palatka water supply via a continuous chemical feed system.
Some area cities don’t fluoridate.
NATURALLY OCCURRING FLUORIDE IN JAX, ST. AUG
Jacksonville and St. Augustine have only naturally occurring fluoride in their drinking water. John Burnam, a water quality officer with the Jacksonville Electric Authority, said fluoride levels in Jacksonville’s water supply are approximately .07 ppm.
“The reason we don’t fluoridate is that we have enough fluoride occurring naturally in our water,” Burnam said.
Large drums hold hydrofluorosilic acid at the Palatka RC Willis Water Treatment Plant on Moody Road. Concrete slabs beneath pipes moving the chemical from holding tanks to a “day tank” are pitted about an inch deep and as much as a foot in diameter as a result of acid that drips when pipe fittings are loose. Inside a white storage shed about 10 yards away, a belt-driven pump feeds the acid into a chemical injection pit, where it is released into the city’s water supply. Register said about every two months, chemical company trucks bring 2,500 pounds of hydrofluorosilic acid to the plant.
“We just do it because they tell us to,” Register said of the city policy of fluoridation. “The federal government funded a two-year program to get us going, then after the two years when the funding dried up, the city started footing the bill.”
Register estimated it costs the city approximately $10,000 annually to fluoridate its water.
Residents of Palatka or any city where water is fluoridated cannot necessarily avoid ingesting the chemical by avoiding drinking tap water. Hydrofluorosilic acid is in many sodas and juices processed in cities with fluoridated water.
The only effective method of removing fluoride from tap water in fluoridated areas is a reverse osmosis filtering system, which can cost as much as $5,000 to install.
Hirzy said it is time for Congress to investigate the effects of fluoridation, and for physicians to research its effects on human health.
“How physicians and dentists can ignore the information and push people to swallow this stuff and get up and look themselves in the mirror is something I don’t understand.”