Amidst all of the hurry and scurry of Congress attempting to wind legislative activity down before the Fourth of July break, on June 29, 2000 in a hearing of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water, witnesses testified that the level of fluoride allowed in the public water supply is not sufficiently protective of the public, especially children.
J. William Hirzy, Ph.D. testified on behalf of the union that represents all of the toxicologists, biologists, chemists, physicians, engineers, attorneys and other professional employees at Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters, Washington, D.C. He rendered a clear record of EPA activities that depart from EPA’s own professional standards to arrive at a maximum contaminant level for fluoride that the union asserts is at least 8 times less protective than current science supports.
Dr. Hirzy explained that applying risk assessment methodology routinely used by EPA to peer reviewed science, such as the study published in 1998 that shows lesions to the brain and kidney damage in laboratory animals with long-term exposure to 1 milligram of fluoride per liter of water __the same level deemed “optimal” for fluoridation programs __ would result in scientific computation of a protective maximum contaminant level that would not allow fluoridation of the public water supplies.
Responding to questions from Senator Robert Smith of New Hampshire, Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Eric Olson of the Natural Resource Defense Council reminded the Committee that NRDC had sued EPA over the current maximum contaminant level for fluoride when it was first established because it was clear that children exposed to that level would suffer from dental fluorosis (opaque white spots, brown stains, striations, mottling of enamel, and fracture-prone teeth). As Dr. Hirzy indicated in his testimony, the largest dental study performed in the U.S. confirms that 66% of children in fluoridated communities now display the visible signs of fluoride over-exposure on at least one tooth.
Olson stated that NRDC supported the union of EPA professionals’ recommendation for an independent peer review of the science used to support EPA’s conclusions, as well as consideration of new science published since the maximum contaminant level was established in 1985.
The subcommittee hearing was originally scheduled for oversight of EPA activities in establishing maximum contaminant levels for radon and arsenic in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. While most of the testimony was directed to radon and arsenic issues, even those discussions were highly instructive and relevant to fluoridation considerations.
The hearing quickly revealed the contentious atmosphere surrounding the conflict between the oversight committee and EPA on the new measures proposed by EPA. Chuck Fox, Assistant Administrator of Water, EPA, preceded presentation of his written testimony by protesting the recent passage of a military appropriations bill in the House of Representatives that contained a rider restricting EPA’s institution of the proposed maximum contaminant levels for radon and arsenic.
Senator Michael Crapo of Idaho, Chair of the subcommittee, responded that he would support the budgetary rider when it came to the Senate in order to effect more responsible dialogue by EPA with stakeholders who protest the validity of the science used by EPA to support their conclusions. Panelists at the hearing agreed that the maximum contaminant level of arsenic is not protective at the current 50 parts per billion (ppb); but some panelists expressed concern beyond questioning EPA’s scientific determination, stating that the proposed 5 ppb is too costly to rural and smaller water districts without an economically feasible cost-to-reduction-in-risk ratio, preferring a protective measure of 10 ppb at the lowest, to 20 ppb as recommended by the Science Advisory Board.
Michael Kosnett, Associate Clinical Professor, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Colorado Health Sciences, testifying on behalf of the National Research Council Subcommittee on Arsenic in Drinking Water, opposed suggestion of the creation of a two-tiered level of safety, clarifying that individuals serviced by smaller water suppliers did not experience less risk of adverse health effects just because there may be fewer customers, and that individual consumers deserved to expect equal protection.
Olson of the NRDC opposed further delays to the establishment of a more protective maximum contaminant level for arsenic, citing a history of delays in the 1970’s and 1980’s that still has not lead to a revision since the current level was established in 1942.
As final comment, Dr. Hirzy reiterated evidence of increased levels of lead found in children’s blood when the untested hazardous wastes from the phosphate fertilizer industry that are used in 90% of the fluoridation programs are present in public water systems. Hirzy further cited the existence of numerous studies linking fluoride to neurological impairment, and the findings of three separate courts, never overturned on the merits of the case, that concluded after weeks of testimony from expert witnesses that fluoride at the level found in fluoridated water did indeed cause adverse health effects including cancer; yet no substantive hearing by Congress has been held for 23 years.
The only visual display by any of the 11 panelists at the hearing summed up the disparity in EPA’s scientific conclusions on fluoride and EPA’s testimony at the hearing explaining how they arrived at the margin of safety for arsenic.
Two posters, showing the relative toxicity levels of lead, fluoride, and arsenic compared to EPA’s established maximum contaminant levels for the three elements, provided a graphic illustration of the vast difference in the protection provided the public for fluoride exposure. While fluoride is slightly less toxic than arsenic and more toxic than lead, the maximum contaminant level for lead is 15 parts per billion (ppb), and the EPA is recommending 5 ppb for arsenic; yet the maximum contaminant level for fluoride has been established by EPA at 4000 ppb.
Complete written testimony by panelists submitted prior to the hearing can be accessed on the Committee’s web site: http://www.senate.gov/~epw/stm1_106.htm#06-29-00