While a bill requiring the fluoridation of public water supplies in Arkansas did not pass in this year’s session of the Arkansas General Assembly, proponents of the proposal are not giving up.
“We are going to do this again, and if we have to, we are going to do it again and we’re going to do it again and again,” Dr. Lynn Mouden, director of the Arkansas Health Department’s Office of Oral Health, said in a speech last month to those attending the Celebration of 60 Years of Community Water Fluoridation symposium in Chicago. The symposium was organized jointly by the American Dental Association (ADA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
While the symposium was running, news outlets across the nation reported that Harvard University was initiating an investigation of one of its professors for allegedly downplaying a study showing a correlation between fluoridated water and osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in young boys.
Besides attracting public health officials and dentists, the gathering also attracted more than 20 anti-fluoridation protesters from a dozen states. Dr. Mouden’s comments, in which he mocked members of the Arkansas legislature, were recorded by one of the protesters who attended the session, transcribed, and distributed by the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).
In his speech, Mouden outlined “successes” made in the movement to deliver fluoridated water to Arkansans: “When I arrived in 1999 we had about 49 percent of the state fluoridated. In the following six years we’ve been able to increase that to 62 percent. That’s just not good enough.”
Mouden said a state-wide telephone poll showed that 74 percent of residents supported fluoridation and 17 percent opposed the mandatory fluoridation bill. “When they were told the benefits of fluoridation, that changed to 85 percent in favor, 4 percent against. According to the speech transcript, Mouden said the poll was conducted by the state denatal association.
Mouden read from a pro-fluoridation editorial in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and joined the paper in ridiculing anti-fluoridation activist Crystal Harvey. Harvey was among those protesting outside the gathering.
“They [The Dem-Gaz] said some really nice things about one of the people that was out front yesterday. You may have noticed her – a nice lady out there with a sign that was saying ‘Get the F out of our water’ – showing a lot of class.
“She testified at our hearing. She’s actually a hairdresser from Hot Springs so she knows all about hazardous chemicals. In the editorial, they did quote her and talked about the fact that fluoride is a hazardous chemical. She says it is a poison. And then in their typical manner the editorial says ‘PUH LEEZE. Yes, you can get too much fluoride, but you can also get too much water.’ So they understood.”
Mouden blamed the failure of the fluoridation bill on politics. He noted a 3-3 vote in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, and blamed the failure of the bill on a single senator, committee chair Jack Critcher, D-Batesville.
“We learned that fluoride was not the issue,” Mouden said. “All of the votes that we know of had to do with other things.
“Senator Critcher was not against fluoride. He had another issue that he was trading off on. He wasn’t against the fluoridation bill. He needed a favor from other senators. Politics is usually the issue.
“Literally one person stopped the fluoridation effort in Arkansas. So what have we learned? We learned that legislators sometimes become less than courageous. I’m just trying to think of a nice way to say this. We had one legislator literally say to us that she had to vote against because she was getting a call from – her words not mine – she was getting a call from a crazy every night. And she wasn’t going to put up with that so she had to vote against it.”
Mouden said he was not there to talk about losing: “I’m not talking about losing. We just haven’t won yet. This was our very first time out of the box and to think we made it through half the legislature swimmingly obviously gives us a lot of encouragement, and, yes, we are asking Senator Critcher to sponsor our bill in the next session.
“So that’s what’s on our agenda.”
A call to Critcher for comment on Mouden’s allegation was not returned by press time.
Mouden is not the only one not giving up. Harvey remains active in the anti-fluoridation movement and plans to continue organizing Arkansans to fight attempts to pass laws mandating fluoridation. She regularly distributes FAN bulletins and other fluoridation news to a growing e-mail list, and notified the media of the Chicago meeting and the breaking news out of Harvard that came out while the symposium was underway.
The widely-reported story tells that the Harvard School of Dental Medicine is investigating faculty member Chester Douglass after the watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG) accused him of misrepresenting a study by a former student that reported that fluoride in drinking water increases the risk of bone cancer in young boys.
According to EWG, Douglass, Harvard’s chair of the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, said in a report to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) that the still-unpublished study by former student Elise Bassin showed there was no relationship between fluoride and bone cancer.
Douglass’ claim contradicts what Bassin summarized in her dissertation, a study which utilized Douglass’ own research data. Douglass signed off on Bassin’s report.
Bassin’s report showed a nearly five-fold higher risk of osteosarcoma in boys who, at age 7, drank water containing 30 percent to 99 percent of the amount of fluoride recommended by the CDC. When boys drank water containing at least 100 percent of recommended fluoride levels, their risk jumped to more than seven times that of unexposed boys.
Bassin’s research was completed in 2001, and EWG questions why the report has not been published. Bassin used data gathered by Douglass during a broader cancer/fluoridation study that showed no link. Bassin narrowed the age group in the study, and that is where the increased risk was revealed.
Douglass is also the editor of a newsletter called the Colgate Oral Care Report, funded by Colgate-Palmolive, which makes fluoride-containing toothpaste.
According to reports, neither Douglass nor Bassin have commented on the news reports or investigation.