The Hoopa Valley quietly followed the lead of France, Sweden, Belgium and dozens of other nations from around the world when it stopped putting fluoride into the water supply earlier this year.
The new Tribal Council voted unanimously for the change just a few weeks into their terms.
Murphy Lott, the senior water treatment operator for the local Public Utilities District (PUD), said, “I was told by the Manager that the new Council voted to stop using it, and I agree with that decision.”
“Most of the European Union has outlawed it,” Lott said. “Most of the countries don’t want it in their water.”
Large-scale water fluoridation started in the United States in the 1940s. It was put forward as a way to prevent cavities in children, after studies showed that fluoride helped strengthen teeth.
Some countries, like Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, added fluoride to their water supplies too, but have since stopped. Other countries, like Belgium and France, never allowed fluoride to be added to drinking water in the first place.
Doctor Paul Tramini, with the French Public Health Service (Service de Santé Publique), said water fluoridation has never been authorized in France for both technical and ethical reasons.
“Do not oblige an entire population to ingest fluoride, without having the freedom of choice,” Tramini said.
Christian Legros, the director of Belgaqua in Brussels, Belgium, said, “This water treatment has never been of use in Belgium and will never be (we hope so) into the future.”
“The main reason for that is the fundamental position of the drinking water sector that it is not its task to deliver medicinal treatment to people. This is the sole responsibility of health services,” Legros said.
Adding fluoride as medicine to water that will be used to water lawns, or wash dishes, or clean a load of laundry doesn’t make much sense, and it’s impossible to control the precise dose that reaches people who do drink the water.
Lott said, “You don’t know who’s drinking it or how much is in their system, and this has been shown to cause problems for people.”
The Willow Creek Community Service District (WCCSD), which serves the town located just south of the Hoopa Valley, also doesn’t add fluoride to their water.
Lonnie Danel, WCCSD’s former chief water operator and current manager, said, “No, we never added fluoride to our water supply.”
“There was a dentist in town who was pushing to have it added 10 years ago,” Danel said. “A lot of people didn’t want it, and there was also the cost factor.”
Fifty miles to the west of the Valley, only two out of seven water districts add fluoride to their water supplies.
Eureka and Arcata add fluoride to their water. McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Manilla, Fieldbrook, and Humboldt Community Service District (CSD) don’t.
Carol Rische, general manager of regional water wholesaler Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, said, “Years and years ago it was decided to leave it as a local decision.”
Because of hundreds of new studies that link high levels of fluoride with diabetes, male infertility, some cancers, and problems with brain development, more and more local communities in the U.S. are choosing to leave fluoride out of their drinking water.
Scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a review of dozens of studies conducted in China. They found a connection between drinking high-fluoride water and reduced brain function in humans.
According to the review, “Children in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas.”
For many people, the benefits of fluoride in strengthening teeth and preventing cavities are outweighed by the risks of increased male infertility, diabetes, cancer, and lower Intelligence Quotient (IQ) scores.
Councilmember Marjorie Colegrove said, “People know it’s not good for you.”
Hoopa Tribal Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten said, “We said, ‘why would we pay to poison our own people?’ and voted to stop putting fluoride in the water.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also looking into its “risk and exposure assessments for fluoride.”
According to the EPA’s website, their Office of Water “announced its intent to review the drinking water regulations for fluoride to determine whether revisions are appropriate.”
In the meantime, leftover twenty-pound bags of fluoride are stacked on a wooden pallet next to the water treatment plant’s two main microfilters in Hoopa.
Each bag is marked with a skull and crossbones, along with the word “toxic” in English and Chinese.
Lott looked at the bags and shook his head. “The whole thing about a treatment plant is you’re supposed to be taking the nasty stuff out of the water, not putting a toxic chemical back in.”