It was introduced here in 1963, and the Department of Health says dental decay rates have been reduced by 70% in the meantime. Over the same period, however, fluoridation has been stopped by almost every country in the Europe, as scientific studies link it to cancer, osteoporosis, irritable bowl syndrome, dental fluorosis and other health problems.
A number of lobby groups have again raised the issue and will express serious reservations to a Forum on Fluoridation, established this week by Health Minister Micheal Martin.
In announcing the forum, Mr Martin spoke about the major contribution fluoridation had made to the oral health of Irish people during the past 37 years, but also said the forum would be giving opponents of fluoridation a full opportunity to voice their concerns.
By 1998, according to the Minister, the oral health of Irish people was as good as, or better than, that of people in most European countries, including the Nordic countries.
Meath based dentist Don MacAuley is one of a number professionals who is currently campaigning against the use of fluoride in water.
A special advisor to the Fluoride Free Water Campaign, he has studied the results of international research, and discovered another side to the story about which Irish people were not generally aware. He now finds it hard to understand why Ireland is virtually the only country in Europe which endorses fluoridation and demands it by law.
Scandanavian countries banned water fluoridation in the seventies and eighties because not enough was known about its long term health and environmental effects.
In 1975, Germany rejected it as foreign to nature, unnecessary, inefficient, irresponsible and harmful to the environment. The Dutch, Danes and French soon followed. Closer to home, 25 out of 26 councils in Northern Ireland voted against fluoridation of their drinking water in 1996.
In Britain, only 10% of drinking water is fluoridated, compared to 75% in Ireland. Recent plans to extend the programme have been postponed following new research presented to the UK Ministry of Health on the medical side effects.
However, there are also studies which support fluoridation, and these are being quoted by the Department of Health to justify its continued use. For instance, the most recent comprehensive survey carried out by the National Research Council in the US, concluded that concerns about fluoridation were not warranted and that there was no need to alter the ceiling of four parts per million – four times higher than the Irish limit.
Also, the National Academy of Sciences, regarded as the premier scientific organisation in the US, has upheld the science used to determine standards for fluoride in drinking water.
Such findings are being used by the Department of Health to support the continued use of fluoridation, and Minister Martin has promised that the forum will look into all aspects of the fluoridation debate, answering public concerns and making recommendations in relation to its future use. Nevertheless, opposition is growing from Irish local authorities, as politicians are being told by lobbyists about the downside of fluoridation.
Dublin City Council and Donegal and Sligo County Councils have voted to suspend water fluoridation in their regions on safety grounds, but their motions were overruled by the Department of Health.
The dental profession in Ireland has traditionally backed fluoridation, but dentists, such as Don MacAuley are now questioning the ethics of dosing drinking water with a toxin extracted from fertiliser waste.
He found overseas research linked fluoride to hip fracture and bone disease, brain disorders and irritable bowel syndrome. Interestingly, these conditions are of a higher prevalence here than most others in the developed world.
He also points out that, two years ago, 1,200 scientists, doctors and lawyers from the American Environmental Protection Agency publicly stated their opposition to water fluoridation because of the body of evidence that indicated a causal link between the treatment and cancer, genetic damage, neurological impairment and bone pathology. Mr MacAuley has been finding it difficult to access information on fluoridation from the authorities in Ireland, but has used the Freedom of Information Act. He said that the answers to some of his questions have confirmed his fears. The fluoridating agent used in drinking water here is hydrofluosilicic acid, a component of toxic waste imported from the fertiliser industry in Holland. Hydrofluosilicic acid is a non biodegradable, highly corrosive substance, contaminated with a number of heavy metals including arsenic and lead.
The Environmental Protection Agency reported in 1997 that 9% of all water supplies exceeded the recommended levels of 1mg of fluoride per litre of water. These and all other exceedances are illegal and impermissible.
“In spite of all the evidence which now exists about the dangers of fluoride to health, in 35 years of fluoridation, no Irish government has ever carried out a public health survey on its effects, even though it is required to under the 1960 Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act,” he said.
BUT Mr. MacAuley claimed there is a hidden agenda at the official level to reveal as little as possible about fluoridation.
Meanwhile, what the Department of Health describes as a major research project into all aspects of fluoride use in Ireland is underway.
The results of this research will be used to produce guidelines for fluoride use in each health board area. The research has been commissioned by Minister Martin’s department and the health boards and is being carried out by UCC and TCD.