Let me introduce myself. I lived for two years in Vermont while I was obtaining my Ph.D. in chemistry from Dartmouth College. I joined the faculty of St. Lawrence University in New York state in 1983, and in 1985 I was invited to debate the issue of municipal waste incineration by Vermont Law School. The debate was held in Rutland, and at the conclusion of the debate citizens from five states formed a coalition, which eventually became Work on Waste USA, which I directed.
My involvement in waste battles has taken me to 49 states and 65 different countries and brought me to Rutland many times. It also changed the focus of my teaching from biochemistry to environmental chemistry and toxicology.
In 1996, my wife persuaded me to look at fluoridation. I had avoided getting involved with this debate because I did not want to be stigmatized as “loony tunes” by my colleagues.
What I learned on that day in July 1996 turned me around. As a chemist, I had assumed that citizens had confused fluorine, the most reactive element in the periodic table with the compounds it forms with other elements called “fluorides.” But they hadn’t. While the fluoride ion is fairly unreactive chemically, it is very active biologically. It inhibits enzymes and forms complexes with many metal ions, which are crucial for biochemical function.
But what struck me most was that through all the twists and turns of evolution, starting in the sea where the level of fluoride is 1.4 parts per million, very little fluoride has ended up in mothers’ milk (0.004 ppm). Why on Earth — if dentists were correct that babies needed fluoride for healthy teeth — did nature provide so little to the new-born baby? It seems reasonable that nature is protecting the baby from this toxic substance during its early development. Fluoridation removes that protection: A bottle-fed baby in a fluoridated community gets about 200 times more fluoride than a breast-fed baby. That makes fluoridation a reckless practice in my view.
I have actively campaigned against fluoridation for more than 20 years. I have spoken on the issue in Brattleboro, Bennington, Burlington and Randolph. In 2010, with two other retired professors, I co-authored a book, “The Case Against Fluoride” (Chelsea Green). Based on what I have found I would like to comment on some of the arguments offered by proponents in your paper (Rutland Herald, Feb. 8, 2015).
Dr. Sarah Vose, the state’s toxicologist said “there was no currently accepted evidence that fluoridation causes negative health effects.” But how can she deny the weight of evidence that fluoride is neurotoxic? There have been more than 300 animal and human studies that indicate this is so (www.FluorideAction.net/issues/health/brain). This includes 49 studies reporting a lowering of IQ in children. In one Chinese study (Xiang, 2003) the authors found IQ was lowered somewhere between 0.75 and 1.5 ppm, which leaves no margin of safety to protect children drinking artificially fluoridated water (0.7 and 1.2 ppm) in the United States.
Unfortunately, health authorities in the U.S. have shown little interest in replicating these findings. Thus claiming no evidence of harm when you don’t even bother to look, rings very hollow. This situation may change when the National Toxicology Program reviews the issue as it is planning to do.
Knowing the steps being taken to limit children’s exposure to lead because it is “neurotoxic,” it is shocking that health officials in Vermont should show such little concern about the deliberate — and unnecessary — exposure of children to neurotoxic fluoride via the drinking water.
Vaughn Collins, executive director of the Vermont State Dental Society, says fluoridation is “especially important for children,” but children from low-income families are the last children who need to have their IQ lowered.
Dr. Richard Venmar, a dentist from Barre, said, “From the perspective of a dental health professional, it’s a no-brainer.” Unfortunately, far too many professionals only got one side of this debate at dental school, and many are far too busy to catch up with the literature today. In fact, the literature on the benefits of fluoridation was recently reviewed by the highly respected UK Cochrane review team (2015) and they reported, there were no high-quality studies indicating 1) that when fluoridation was halted tooth decay increased, or 2) that fluoride lowered tooth decay in adults or 3) that fluoride reduced disparities among children from different economic groups. Cochrane found some studies showed some benefit to children’s teeth but these were considered of little relevance today because they pre-dated the widescale use of fluoridated toothpaste.
I urge citizens to do everything they can to end this well-intentioned but outdated practice. The small benefits, if any, do not warrant the risks being taken when there are far safer ways of delivering fluoride to the surface of the teeth. Nor does it warrant forcing people to ingest this toxic substance when they would prefer not to do so.
Paul Connett is professor emeritus of environmental chemistry at St. Lawrence University