Fluoride Action Network

Two Opposing Views on Fluoridating Portland’s Drinking Water

Source: The Lund Report | Opinion | April 19th, 2013 | Rick North and Dr. Teran Colen
Location: United States, Oregon

The first commentary, by Rick North, encourages voters to defeat the ballot measure because of health concerns, lack of effectiveness and higher costs, while the second commentary, by Claudia Colen and Dr. Teran Colen insists the science is clear that fluoride doesn’t have any negative health or environmental impacts and is a safe and effective option.

By Rick North

On May 3, ballots will be sent to all Portland voters asking them to vote on fluoridation. The last day to vote will be May 21.

The favorite campaign talking point of the pro-fluoridation folks is a list of health organizations endorsing the practice, led by the American Dental Association and the CDC. They know people are very busy and many simply accept the opinions of these authority figures.

I used to accept the list too, until I actually started looking at the science five years ago. Then, like so many others, I changed my mind. Most information is lay-friendly, but for more technical aspects, Clean Water Portland is fortunate to have a top-notch local and national team of scientists, physicians and dentists as advisors.

I soon discovered there’s a much bigger list that doesn’t support fluoridation – most of the rest of the world.

I worked for over 30 years in non-profit public and environmental health, and have never seen an issue like fluoridation where our government and many health organizations are so out of step with their counterparts in most other nations.

Out of 196 countries, only 27 fluoridate and only 11 for more than half their population. The U.S. fluoridates more people than the rest of the world combined. In Europe, 43 out of 48 countries don’t, accounting for 97 percent of the population. Most never started, but nations like Germany, Finland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands stopped as science kept building against the practice.

In addition to health concerns, Europeans often cite how it’s unethical to put a drug – in fluoride’s case, a known toxin – into the water supply. There’s no control over individual medical history, dose and duration of ingesting it – this one-size-fits- all violates EVERY safety protocol of drug administration. That includes informed consent – fluoridation takes that choice away from you.

In the last few months, fluoridation proponents have made increasingly outlandish claims from “Fluoridation is supported by every major health organization” to “Every single healthcare organization in THE WORLD supports fluoridation.”

Let’s do a reality check. Just in the U.S., the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Thyroid Association, American Kidney Fund and many others don’t endorse fluoridation, although they don’t oppose it – yet. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine and International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology are already on record against it.

Look at recent trends in nations whose governments have followed the U.S. and actively pushed fluoridation:

  • Canada – Over the past five years, the percent of residents drinking fluoridated water has dropped from 45 percent to 32 percent. Quebec City, Moncton and Calgary all quit, as did Windsor, ON three months ago.
  • Australia – Queensland dropped its requirement that cities fluoridate in December. In a few short months, 30 towns and cities stopped – over half a million people.
  • Israel – The Health Minister announced last week that municipalities would no longer be required to fluoridate, effective within a year.

The reasons cited are the same as the Europeans – health and ethical concerns, lack of effectiveness and high costs.

The movement against fluoridation is growing here too. Please examine your Voters Pamphlet carefully, where you’ll see 41 statements in opposition. They include two scientists authoring the landmark 2006 National Academy of Sciences report, the former director of the EPA Scientists Union, endocrine disruption specialist Dr. Theo Colborn and Ralph Nader. They also include several Portland residents whose health will be harmed by fluoridation chemicals, including former city commissioner Mike Lindberg. They’re joined by the Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeepers and Food and Water Watch who cite fluoridation’s environmental harm.

You’ll see another statement signed by 60 Portland-area physicians opposing fluoridation on health grounds. More wanted to sign on, but there wasn’t room.

There’s another list – American cities that have fluoridated. Why aren’t we on it, fluoridationists say – what’s wrong with Portland?

The real question is, what’s wrong with these cities? San Antonio, after fluoridating for nine years, saw decay rates for low-income children actually rise 13 percent. The same dental problems in Portland persist in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Boston, Detroit and numerous others that have fluoridated for decades.

Even the CDC acknowledged fluoride’s benefits are mainly topical – not from ingestion. We can do better for our kids – through proper nutrition, increased sealants and increased utilization of programs already in place providing dental care for low-income kids. The ABCD program in Washington State for Medicaid-enrolled children has been a major factor why cities there have lowered their cavity rates. Let’s do the good without the harm.

Fluoridation is a house of cards. It’s built on inertia, not science. It’s propped up by public relations, not public health. And it will fall from the weight of its multiple risks to people and the environment.

Please vote no on Measure 26-151.

Rick North is the former CEO of the Oregon American Cancer Society (1994-99) and former Project Director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign for Safe Food (2003-2011). He retired in February 2011 to become a volunteer confronting undue corporate influence in elections and the government.

Why Water Fluoridation is Important
By Claudia Colen and Dr. Teran Colen

As parents, we have been closely following the fluoride debate and community conversation. We are, respectively, an African American physician and a Latina public health advocate raising two young children in a community that we love. Yet we simply cannot understand why Portland doesn’t have water fluoridation.

Both of us were raised in cities with fluoridated water, and both of us feel that our dental health benefited from increased access to fluoride. Our parents, who did not have that same access, have suffered from the ill effects of poor dental health. In this day and age, it doesn’t make sense that our children’s generation should be forced to suffer those same negative consequences when fluoridating our water is a safe and effective option.

We’ve heard all the arguments, both for and against fluoridation. We’ve heard concerns that fluoride could be causing cancer, or a variety of other diseases, or that it hasn’t been studied long enough.

We’ve looked at the facts, and the science on this is so clear. Concerns have been studied thoroughly. The scientific and medical consensus is overwhelming – fluoride works, it’s safe and effective. Fluoride does not have any negative health or environmental impacts at the levels used for water fluoridation programs. This is why we still strongly support water fluoridation.

One of us is a board certified physician who diagnoses and follows cancer patients on a daily basis.

During my medical school and training at Harvard Medical School, through residency and fellowship, and throughout my career at Kaiser, I have never seen, been involved with or even heard about a single case of cancer or osteosarcoma being ascribed to water fluoridation. The science supporting the benefits and safety of water fluoridation is greater than the science showing that cigarettes cause cancer and that humans are contributing to climate change. The claims that water fluoridation at the recommended level has a negative health effect are simply untrue. There is no doubt. The science does not support those claims, and they are false.

One of us is a public health advocate who cares deeply about improving the health and well-being of our most vulnerable children.

I’ve learned that more than 21 percent of Portland’s children are suffering from untreated tooth decay, which is 40 percent more decay than kids in fluoridated Seattle. That is just too many kids in pain! This is unacceptable. And even worse, low-income kids and children of color have even worse rates of decay and have the most to lose because of lack of water fluoridation access. A child should never have to suffer more because they are poor and their parents cannot afford other more expensive preventative measures.

If we fluoridated the water we could reduce cavities by more than 25 percent. The way forward is clear.

Lately we’ve heard a lot about water fluoridation and Europe, so we looked into it. Europe has used a variety of programs to provide fluoride to its residents, including water fluoridation, which reaches 12 million Europeans, mainly in Spain, Great Britain, and Ireland. Fluoridated water isn’t widespread in certain parts of Europe mainly because of technical and infrastructure challenges. In France, for example, it’s logistically difficult to fluoridate water because there are tens of thousands of separate sources for drinking water. This is why Western Europe relies more on salt fluoridation, which reaches more than 70 million people and is used in conjunction with fluoridated milk programs in Eastern Europe, fluoridated bottled drinking water, and universal dental care. Whether distributed through salt, milk or community water systems, Europeans have access to fluoride and they reap the many benefits from it.

As parents, if we had even the slightest concern that water fluoridation wasn’t healthy for everyone, then we wouldn’t support it. But all the major health organizations that we know and trust fully support fluoridation including the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization. They all support community water fluoridation because it is safe and effective and saves money.

We are voting yes because we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to grow up with good oral health and strong teeth, not just the kids who live in a particular community. We are voting yes because the overwhelming science supports it. We are voting yes because our conscious tells us – it’s the right thing to do. Please join us in supporting water fluoridation in Portland by voting yes on measure 26-151 on May 21.

Claudia Colen and Dr. Teran Colen live and work in Portland, with their two young children. They moved to southeast Portland in 2009 and have since been busy raising kids, camping, fishing, exercising while pushing strollers, touring beautiful Oregon and being active in their community.

Claudia Colen and Dr. Teran Colen insist the science is clear that fluoride doesn’t have any negative health or environmental impacts.