A New Jersey Department of Health study says there may be a link between drinking fluoridated water and increased incidence of bone cancer in young men.
The state Health Department says the results are not strong enough to stop fluoridation of drinking water — the key ingredient in preventing dental cavities in children.
But a former federal toxicologist called the New Jersey results significant, and said it should raise concerns.
“If this were any other chemical but fluoride, there would be a call for the immediate cessation of its use,” said Dr. William Marcus, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s former senior science adviser and chief toxicologist. “It shows potential of great harm.”
But the state health study, obtained by The News Tribune yesterday, says a conclusion on fluoride cannot be reached at this time.
“From a public health perspective, the findings of this study, even when taken with the overall findings currently in the scientific literature, are not sufficient to recommend that fluoridation of water supplies be halted,” the report states.
“The results of this study suggest the advisability of further investigation of possible chronic hazards of fluoride intake from all sources.”
But as a result of the findings, the New Jersey study recommends that dentists identify whether children live in fluoridated communities, and take that information into account when prescribing fluoride supplements.
The study focused on three counties — Middlesex, Monmouth, and Mercer — which together compose almost three quarters of the total fluoridated population in New Jersey.
The other counties examined by the state were Union, Somerset, Atlantic, and Burlington. The report examined bone cancer incidence from 1979-1987.
Of the seven counties probed, 12 cases of bone cancer were found and all of them were discovered in fluoridated towns in Middlesex, Monmouth, and Mercer counties.
“The rate ratio of incidence in fluoridated versus non-fluoridated municipalities in the three county area was 5 to 1,” the report said.
A health department official said the study was “too small” and not comprehensive enough to cause concern about fluoride.
“This is not a super-integrated study,” said Dr. William Parkins, assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health.
For example, researchers did not find out about other possible environmental factors or genetic factors that could have helped cause the disease, such as family history or how long the victims lived in the municipality.
But Marcus, the toxicologist, said that any ratio more than 4 to 1 signifies a real effect. “They show they have those, and that is dramatic.”
The New Jersey study meanwhile agrees with a 1991 national study of drinking water fluoridation which found a “significant association” with incidence of bone cancer of males under 20 years of age.
“This exploratory study suggested an association between the fluoridation of drinking water and the incidence of childhood osteosarcoma among males and corroborates the results of a similar type of study conducted nationally by the National Cancer Institute,” the study says.
But neither the national or state study was considered comprehensive enough by the state health department.
“Therefore, even taking both studies together, there is insufficient basis to draw conclusions about whether osteosarcoma incidence and fluoridation are causally linked,” the New Jersey report states.
Osteosarcoma is the most common primary malignant tumor of the bone and is one of the principal cancers of childhood.
Other than ingestion of certain radioisotopes, like radium 226 and 228, or exposure to high doses of x-rays, there is no known cause of osteosarcoma.
In New Jersey, individual municipalities have authority to decide whether to use fluoride in their water.
Seventy of the state’s 567 municipalities have used fluoridated water since the early 1970s. Overall, about 15 percent of New Jerseyans drink fluoridated water.
Potential sources of fluoride exposure include food, vitamins, swallowed toothpaste, and drinking water.
Fluoride in drinking water is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy.
Marcus said that admitting the real harm of fluoride causes a political problem for the state department of health because “they recommend that it be put in the water. They’d have to admit they made a public health mistake.”
Parkin said while the state study did get similar results as the national report, there are simply “too many loose ends” to base a decision.
He said that compared with lung cancer in New Jersey which claims 5,000 lives every year in New Jersey, the risk possibly posed by fluoride, which found 20 cases in eighty years is not as significant.
“We have to know where to put our priorities,” he said.
And he said that right now, the benefits of fluoridated water outweigh potential negatives.