Some experts have called it a breakthrough in human health innovation, while others have pitted it as a toxic, government infringement.
But while the controversial issue of water fluoridation dates back to its initial integration into public drinking utilities during the 1940s, there has been little buzz surrounding it in Escambia County since it was put back into local wells in 2002 — until this year.
On April 21, roughly one month after the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority approved a one-year $300,000 contract with Industrial Chemicals, Inc. to continue placement of hydrofluosilicic acid (liquid by-product of phosphate) into local wells, the validity of fluoridation was brought forward at a citizen advisory board meeting.
Since then, fluoridation has been a topic at most ECUA meetings and has given its opponents and proponents a chance to platform the issue.
“I think it’s an important issue that needs evaluating,” says Ron Ward, a candidate for the ECUA board. “I have not completely decided if I’m for or against it. What I’m looking for is enoughsufficient evidence (showing) that it should be removed from the water system.”
During the citizen advisory meeting, members of the Escambia County United Against Fluoridation group were present to speak about the harmful effects of fluoride, such as dental fluorosis and kidney damage.
Since that time, the group has gained support through a website (ecuaf.org) and a Facebook social networking page — which now has more than 85 followers.
Ward says he’s been attending board meetings for the past seven months and has been given an array of information on the pros and cons of fluoride; still, he believes it’s an issue that warrants extensive study before anyone on the utility board casts a vote.
“It’s really hard to determine the factual information of that. Just because someone has written an article that is pro or con, doesn’t mean it is factual. We have a higher content of arsenic in our water than fluoride. If I’m worried about the quality of water, I’m worried about other things than just fluoride.”
Ward is running for the Dist. 4 seat currently held by Dale Perkins, a supporter of water fluoridation. The only ECUA boardmember openly opposed to fluoridation is Elizabeth Campbell, who upset Dist. 1 incumbent Logan Fink running as a staunch opponent of fluoride in the 2008 election.
“Any good business reviews its policies,” Campbell said during the April meeting. “New studies and information regarding adding fluoride to the water (are out there).”
The City of Pensacola first introduced fluoride into its water system in early 1963, but it was quickly removed. A citizen-led referendum put the issue back on the table in 1998, paving the way for its implementation into ECUA water four years later.
WHAT IS FLUORIDE?
You’ll find it in many of the foods you eat, and it exists naturally in drinking water and even in the ocean (and as far as we can tell, it isn’t a communist-created conspiracy).
But what exactly is it?
In simple terms, fluoride is a broken-down form of the fluorine element. It was first found to fight tooth decay in the late 1800s. When used in drinking water, it is generally administered using one of three different compounds: sodium fluoride, hexafluorosilicic acid and hexafluorosilicate. These are generally added to water wells in the form of a powdered solution.
Fluoride has been used in toothpaste and mouthwash since the 1970s. It is toxic in high doses and was at the center of the Conoco environmental scandal in the early 1990s, where it was discovered that more than 1 million pounds of fluoride from an underground plume could eventually contaminate Bayou Texar. The report also showed fluoride contaminating two ECUA wells. Those wells were closed in 1992.
In the 1930s, the U.S. National Institutes of Health released a series of studies that showed that adding roughly 1 milligram of fluoride per liter of water could help prevent tooth decay. In 1945, Grand Rapids, Mich. became the first city to fluoridate its water supply.
Four years later, Gainesville sparked Florida’s cavity fight, adding roughly .8 parts per million (.25 milligrams per 8 ounces) of fluoride to its utility.
Today, more than 72 percent of the nation and 75 percent (or 12.9 million people) of Florida’s population drink fluoridated water, including all of the metropolitan area of Pensacola.
Many national health groups such as the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believe it to be the best defense against cavities, particularly for lower-income children who are not able to go to the dentist.
“After fluoride was added to its water supply, Grand Rapids was compared to control’ communities with no added fluoride, and a detailed assessment of the relationship between fluoridation and tooth decay was performed,” a CDC report explains. “The National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC) reviewed the results and found a dramatic decline in tooth decay in the Grand Rapids children.”
ECUA Executive Director Steve Sorrell says his utility, which serves more than 225,000 residents, uses .5 parts per million of fluoride in its wells, which he says has been very effective both with cutting costs and providing a health service.
“It took a lot of research by the boardthey really did their homework based on recommendations from peopleparticularly from our area,” he says. “It’s not cheap, and we have a very large system. The costs probably are in the range of half a million a year (for the chemical and implementation).”
According to the Florida Dental Association, most cities that invest $1 in fluoridation save $38 in dental treatment costs. Another report from the Centers for Disease Control — an organization that has called fluoridation “one of the 10 great health achievements of the 20th century” — shows that the cost per person in the United States for fluoridation is less than a dollar.
NOT IN MY WATER
Those who oppose fluoridation say the government should not be paying for a poisonous chemical that many people don’t want.
“It seems to me that (the government’s) solution is fluoridation but that doesn’t do anything,” says Carol Kopf, a representative of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN). “It has not leveled out tooth decay from the haves and have-nots.”
Since 1983 [sic, should be 2000], FAN has been fighting against fluoridation, stating many health risks and lack of research from federal agencies regarding side effects.
“The National Kidney Association just got rid of their fluoride endorsement and a study from 2006 from the National Research Council shows how fluoride harms the thyroid gland,” says Kopf. “You’ve also got people who are allergic to the substance. It’s not right to put something in the water system that 1 to 5 percent could be allergic to.”
Another concern from opponents is cancer.
Dr. Betty Martini, D. Hum, founder of Mission Possible International, says the rates of cancer in areas that have fluoride compared to those that don’t is exponentially greater.
“Fluoride is a neurotoxin; it is a neurotoxin that won’t help anyone,” she says. “Further, in a paper published in the journal Cancer Research, in l984, Dr. Takeki Tsutsui and his co-workers demonstrated that fluoride could indeed induce cancer.
“Connecting fluoridation of drinking water to cancer involved a careful look at the incidence of cancer in fluoridated cities versus unfluoridated cities.”
Martini notes that the study was carried out in 1977 by Dr. Dean Burke, former chief chemist at the National Cancer Institute, and Dr. John Yiamouyiannis.
“They compared the cancer death rates in the 10 largest fluoridated cities with rates in 10 matched unfluoridated cities. The cities’ cancer death rates were very similar during the period just prior to fluoridation, but once public water supplies were fluoridated, they found a strong association between cancer death rates and fluoridation. In fact, fluoridated cities demonstrated a 10 percent increase in cancer deaths following the first 13-17 years of fluoridation.”
According to Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, a neurosurgeon and author of “Health and Nutrition Secrets To Save Your Life,” society is being overloaded with fluoride, which is causing a number of negative health effects including problems with our bodies’ nervous systems.
“Fluoride already occurs in numerous medications, anesthetics, toothpaste, mouth washes, dental treatments, fluid replacement for children, foods, fruit juices, tea, milk, meats, bottled water, industrial exposure, pesticides, animal feeds and contaminated ground water,” he says. “It has been estimated that we are now consuming 8 milligrams of fluoride daily in the United States.
“This is eight times higher than even the proponents of fluoridation recommended as necessary and safe for human consumption, an amount that has led to 30-60 percent of American children suffering from dental fluorosis, and to a growing number of the elderly suffering from crippling skeletal fluorosis. Furthermore, nervous system injury inevitably accompanies these conditions.”
STATE BY STATE
There are currently 12 states that require statewide fluoridation: California (1995), Connecticut (1965), Delaware (1998), Georgia (1973), Illinois (1967), Kentucky (1966), Louisiana (2008), Minnesota (1967), Nebraska (1973), Ohio (1969), South Dakota (1969) and Nevada (1999). The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico also have fluoride requirements.
Many of these laws have been updated through the years, including some that restrict the measure to only larger cities.
In 2008, Nebraska passed a legislative bill that required all cities larger than 1,000 people to add fluoride to their water systems. The bill also included an “opt out” provision, which allowed voters to change the provision. More than 50 cities in the state voted to opt out during the November election that year.
According to FAN, more than 70 communities have rejected fluoridation since 1999.
In Florida, the cities of Stuart, Plant City and Florida City have added fluoride to their drinking water in the past two years and several others, including Gainesville, have voted to reaffirm continuation of fluoridation.
Recently, Lynn Haven, a small community near Panama City, has been pressed by Bay County health officials to begin fluoridating its city’s drinking water.
The Community Health Task Force and its subcommittee, the Dental Strategic Planning Committee, e-mailed a letter to Mayor Walter Kelley on July 12 expressing dental concerns in the county.
Kelley says he has talked to city staff about the issue since that time, but there has been no action taken thus far.
“Everything is how we left it,” he says. “We’re not pursuing it at this time any further. We’ll keep looking at it and as of right now, we are meeting all the requirements that need to be met.”
Kelley admits he has not conducted much research on fluoridation and says he doesn’t know how it would fit into the budget without a grant.
THE UNSETTLED DEBATE
This election year looks to be a decisive one for the ECUA board.
Currently, two pro-fluoride incumbents — Lois Benson of Dist. 2 and Dale Perkins — are up for election.
Benson is set to face two Republicans in the Aug. 24 primary. One, James Kirkland, has stated he would be opposed to fluoridation.
If both lose, Campbell could possibly have enough support to bring the fluoride decision back to the voters.
But that greatly depends on Ward, who tells IN he’s not willing to bend on an issue unless he has all the facts presented, and he doesn’t consider fluoride to be above other issues that ECUA is currently facing.
“It is an issue, but I don’t think it is the only issue. I’ve seen the list of things in our water, and I definitely don’t like some of them.”
— Fluoridation was found to help decrease tooth decay both in communities with varying decay rates and among children of varying socioeconomic status.
— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has proclaimed community water fluoridation (along with vaccinations and infectious disease control) as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
— In the last decade (2000-2009), more than 282 U.S. communities in 40 states have voted to adopt or continue successful fluoridation programs.
— Studies prove water fluoridation is effective in reducing dental decay by 20-40 percent, even in an era with widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste.
— For most cities, every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs.
— Fluoride is not an essential nutrient (NRC 1993 and Institute of Medicine 1997). No disease has ever been linked to a fluoride deficiency. Humans can have perfectly good teeth without fluoride.
— Fluoridation is not necessary. Most Western European countries are not fluoridated and have experienced the same decline in dental decay as the United States.
— Where fluoridation has been discontinued in communities such as Canada, the former East Germany, Cuba and Finland, dental decay has not increased but has actually decreased.
— Fluoride is a cumulative poison. On average, only half of the fluoride we ingest each day is excreted through the kidneys. The remainder accumulates in our bones, pineal gland, and other tissues. If the kidney is damaged, fluoride accumulation will increase, and with it, the likelihood of harm.
Sources: (Centers for Disease Control, Florida Department of Health, The Community Guide, Fluoride Action Network)