I am very heartened by the fact that David Brower, Executive Director of the Sierra Club from 1952-64, Founder of Friends of the Earth, and Founder of Earth Island Institute, has agreed to become a founding member of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN). He joins several other prominent environmental activists, including Edward Goldsmith (publisher of The Ecologist), Gar Smith (editor of the Earth Island Journal), Michael Colby (editor of Food and Water), Ellen Connett (editor of Waste Not), Ralph Ryder (Communities Against Toxics in the UK), Colleen Cooney (Ontario Health Advocacy Association, Canada), Jong-Chul Kim, editor/publisher Green Review (South Korea), and Terri Swearingen (1997 Winner of the Goldman Prize). FAN is an international coalition to end water fluoridation and alert the public to fluoride’s health and environmental risks.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that many other environmental activists who have been approached for help on this issue have shown a reluctance to get involved. It may simply mean that they are so stretched on other issues that they don’t have any time left for this one. Or it may mean that they, like many others, have fallen victim to the notion that their credibility will somehow be impugned if they “stoop” down to tackle this issue. If it is the latter consideration which is holding them back then it is a clear victory for those who promote fluoridation: or more precisely, it is a clear victory for propaganda over science. Any open-minded review of the science of this issue will clearly demonstrate that adding fluoride to water is unnecessary for good teeth and is dangerous to health. In fact, the pendulum of scientific evidence has swung so far towards demonstrating the dangers of fluoridation, that today it will seriously damage the credibility for an environmentalist NOT to help those trying to get fluoride out of the water.
In particular, the addition of fluoride to our drinking water is a clear violation of the “Precautionary Principle” espoused by many environmental groups and several governments. According to Greenpeace: “The essence of the precautionary action approach is that if doubt exists regarding the impact on the environment and/or human health, the responsible approach is to err on the side of safety rather than risk significant and irreversible damage. Action must be taken as a precaution where it is acknowledged that a substance could cause harm without conclusive scientific proof that it does cause harm.”
If this principle does not apply to putting fluoride into the drinking water then it applies to nothing.
— There is a wealth of evidence that this practice poses a health threat.
— There are far more appropriate alternatives, like brushing your teeth (with or without fluoride).
— The US Public Health Service has never demonstrated the safety of hexafluorosilicic acid (the fluoridating agent used for 90 percent of the water fluoridated in the US) and the inevitable contaminants that accompany it when this material is taken from the scrubbers of the superphosphate fertilizer industry. In fact, there is not one published paper on the health effects of exposure to hexafluorosilicic acid.
— As far as ‘transparency’ and ‘democracy’ is concerned, many Americans do not know that their water is being fluoridated. Nor do they know that as a consequence of nearly 70% of U.S. water being fluoridated, this contaminant is coming to them in many other products including processed foods, beer, soft drinks, wine, and juices. As far as ‘democracy’ is concerned, how democratic is it to force it on people who don’t want it and the minority of people who are particularly sensitive or vulnerable to fluoride’s toxic effects? According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) these people include:
“the elderly, people with deficiencies of calcium, magnesium and/or vitamin C, and people with cardiovascular and kidney problems… Impaired renal clearance of fluoride has also been found in people with diabetes mellitus and cardiac insufficiency. People over the age of 50 often have decreased renal fluoride clearance… Poor nutrition increases the incidence of dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis…(1)”
In my view there are seven environmental and public health groups whose credibility could be seriously damaged by ignoring this issue. They are: Clean Water Action, the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Health Care Without Harm, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. I will talk about the first five.
Clean Water Action is dedicated to protecting our water from pollutants. How can they in good conscience stand by and allow the public water supply be abused by having it used to deliver a toxic substance to the whole population? This failure is especially telling since the agent used is a hazardous waste product from the superphosphate industry. The scrubbing liquids are sent directly to the water treatment plants where it is diluted down by a factor of 100,000 using the public water supplies! Environmentalists rejected the notion that “dilution is the answer to pollution” many moons ago. That is why, by law, these companies cannot dump this hazardous waste into the sea. Why is Clean Water Action not objecting to them dumping it into our drinking water?
The World Wildlife Fund is vulnerable because of the double standard that they bring to bear on the issue of environmental hormones – synthetic chemicals and elements which disrupt hormonal systems in fish, birds, animals, and humans. This is not to deny that Dr. Theo Colborn and the other authors of “Our Stolen Future” have done a fantastic job bringing this issue to public attention. However, how can they warn us about the endocrine disrupting effects of many pesticides, additives, and the elements mercury, lead and cadmium, while ignoring the endocrine disrupting effects of fluoride? Moreover, how can they ignore the fact that mercury, lead and cadmium are some of the contaminants in the hexafluorosilicic acid scrubbing product used to fluoridate public drinking water systems, albeit in very small quantities. How is it they have missed, or prepared to overlook, the hormonal disrupting effects of fluoride? There is evidence that fluoride lowers the levels of testosterone; interferes with the functioning of the thyroid gland; is concentrated in the pineal gland and lowers melatonin production; and even more alarmingly interferes (especially in the presence of aluminum) with the signaling mechanism of G-proteins- a common step for all water soluble hormones. This latter fact is so well established that biochemists use the aluminum fluoride complex as a tool in their investigations of G-protein functioning. Anna Struneka and Jiri Patocka give an excellent review of the health implications of the interaction of aluminum fluoride complexes and the G-proteins in the latest issue of the journal Fluoride (Vol 32, No 4, 230-242, 1999). In concluding their article they state:
“With the appearance of acid rain and due to the widespread use of aluminum in industry, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of reactive aluminum appearing in ecosystems, food and water sources. Together with the increase of fluorides now in the environment and food chains, the possibility exists that the near future will supply us with more data about the danger of fluoride and trace amounts of aluminum for the human race.”
Greenpeace is vulnerable because of their valiant efforts to rid the planet of persistent organic pollutants especially organochlorines. Fluoride is not just highly persistent, but being an element, it is permanent. How can they be so concerned about one halogen and ignore its halogen cousin directly above it in the periodic table? How can they take such an important lead on the one issue, and lag so far behind on the other?
Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) are vulnerable because they have made an issue about getting doctors to be socially responsible. PSR was formed by physicians who were appalled by the threat of nuclear war. Ironically, a little research would quickly show that fluoride contamination is another legacy of the Atomic bomb. Massive amounts of fluoride are used in the production of uranium hexafluoride. It was fears about the damage caused by releases of fluoride during the production of uranium hexafluoride at a Dupont facility in Deepwater, New Jersey, which prompted scientists working for the Manhattan Project to oversee fluoridation trials in Newburgh, New York from 1945-55 (2). Turning to the current situation, how responsible is it to give fluoride tablets to pregnant women or babies when leading dental researchers are telling us that whatever slight benefits fluoride provides teeth is provided topically? Fluoride is not an essential nutrient. There is no need to flush every tissue in the body with fluoride, when the target is the tooth’s surface. It’s as irrational as swallowing varnish to protect your nails!
Those whose credo is social responsibility might ponder why it is that nature provides so little fluoride in mothers’ breast milk (average 0.01 ppm). If it was needed for teeth why is the average level in human milk one hundred times lower than the so-called “optimum level” added to drinking water (1 ppm)? Why hasn’t PSR done its homework on the published studies of the health effects of fluoride? How can they ignore the 8 published studies (four of them in the Journal of the American Medical Association) which show an increase in hip fracture associated with fluoride exposure, especially for women exposed to fluoride prior to menopause? How can they ignore the even more serious finding that osteosarcoma has been associated with fluoride exposure in both animal studies and epidemiological studies? Rubbing sodium fluoride into the wound, this organization has just organized a whole conference on water and disease, and yet failed to include any discussion of fluoridation. What happened to the first demand on physicians, “First Do No Harm”? A question which brings us to the fifth vulnerable group: Health Care Without Harm.
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is a remarkable coalition of groups ranging from Greenpeace to national nurses organizations. They have done magnificent work drawing attention to the dangers posed by medical waste incineration and the use of PVC plastic and mercury in hospitals and other medical care facilities. The campaigns against PVC and dioxin emissions from incinerators overlaps with the concern about endocrine disrupting chemicals already discussed above. Their concern about mercury, while initially focusing on the use of this element in thermometers and other devices has now spread to a concern about mercury exposure from mercury amalgams. This adds further irony to the failure to recognize fluoride as a hazard which should be avoided, because the organization which has so adamantly promoted mercury amalgams for over 150 years, is the same agency which stoutly defends the safety of fluoride: the American Dental Association (ADA). In fact, the rhetoric ADA uses on both counts is remarkably similar. Another reason one would have expected HCWH to be sensitive to the fluoride issue is that they have clashed swords several times with the American Council on Science and Health, a group headed by Dr. Elizabeth Whalen and funded largely by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Elizabeth Whalen is an avid promoter of fluoridation as is her close friend Dr. Everett Koop. HCWH has also clashed with Koop.
Let me say it again. All these groups have done and continue to do great work. I have had the pleasure of working with each of them. It pains me to point out the contradictions about their vigorous work protecting human health and the environment, and their unwillingness to help us fight fluoridation. Without their help, it will be more difficult for us to remove the “protected pollutant” status that fluoride has achieved in the US. And fluoridation is very much an American invention, born at the time when people had enormous faith in the benefits of chemicals without recognizing their long term dangers. Very few countries in the world have followed the American example. Only three countries in Europe fluoridate their water. Ireland (73%), UK (10%) and Spain (3%). Some others have dabbled with it but have stopped. Just as European activists have embarrassed us with their foresight on the genetically engineered food, they make US environmentalists look a little pathetic with respect to our inactivity on the fluoridation issue.
While it will take a massive effort to reverse the chemical industry from its obsession with chlorine, we can take a massive step in reducing our exposure to fluoride overnight by simply “turning off the tap.” This won’t end the problem of fluoride exposure completely, we will still have to work on airborne fluoride pollution and the use of fluoride in pesticides, but it would be a great start. Ironically, in the proposed new rules for Organic farming, sodium fluoride (a well known roach poison) is allowed for use as an “inert ingredient”! However, it will not be simple if some of the most organized and active environmental and public health organizations walk on the other side of the street.
I am also uneasy with the possibility that this issue threatens to separate the environmental movement from good science. Quite frankly the science behind the promotion of fluoridation is very poor. Here are three examples:
1) In 1951 the then US Surgeon General endorsed fluoridation before one single trial had been completed.
2) The level of fluoridation which was supposed to be optimal in 1951, is still considered to be optimal even though today we are exposed to far more sources of fluoride than we were in 1945.
3) Even though scientists have known for years that about 50 percent of the fluoride we ingest each day is deposited in our bones and that it accumulates over our lifetimes, no systematic and comprehensive study has been carried out to ascertain the levels of fluoride in the bones of the American people. No one knows how close we are getting to the levels which cause damage to the tendons and to the bone. We could be in for a huge epidemic of osteoarthritis. Instead of calling for a halt of fluoridation while these vital investigations are carried out, the very opposite is happening.
There is a massive effort among several agencies in the US Public Health Service and the US Congress to step up their fluoridation efforts. For example in June of 2000, the US Surgeon General is organizing a conference in Washington to “put smiles on the faces of America’s children” unreached as yet by water fluoridation schemes. US Senator Bingaman has a bill before the Senate which seeks $25 million in funding to step up the fluoridation of Native American communities. What makes these efforts so pernicious is that they are being promoted in the name of protecting the poor, and yet it is well understood among fluoride researchers that it is precisely those who are malnourished that are most vulnerable to fluoride’s toxic effects.
It is heartbreaking when one witnesses the well-heeled profluoridation camp descend upon an unsuspecting community with their flashy brochures and endorsements from local and usually respected dentists. They assure people with well orchestrated speeches that fluoridation is perfectly harmless. Those who raise their voices in opposition, no matter how well-informed, are dismissed as being emotional or just crazy. We need environmental organizations to question the integrity of the government agencies promoting this nonsense. Without that challenge, communities often lose the debate by default. People are expecting to hear cries of concern when an environmental outrage is being committed. In this case they hear a strange and inexplicable silence.
Now in writing all this, I am not saying to my friends in the environmental movement, oppose fluoridation because I oppose fluoridation. What I am saying is, please do your homework on this. For starters look at the videotaped interview I made with Dr. Hardy Limeback, formerly Canada’s leading dental authority on fluoridation until he reversed his position in 1999. Also read my paper on this matter (available on this site). This paper is the result of over 3 1/2 years studying the science of the issue. It contains references to all the research discussed above, and many other issues I haven’t mentioned here. I could be wrong, but please make a good faith effort to find out. Your failure to do so will haunt you in years to come, when more and more evidence eventually proves that fluoride is a critical health and environmental issue. By the time that happens -the kind of proof even epidemiologists cannot ignore- it may have been too late for millions of people with bone and joint problems and several hundred children who might have needlessly succumbed to bone cancer. It may also be too late to protect spawning salmon in the Columbia river. Didn’t the precautionary principle come into being precisely because people want to avoid proving health and environmental damage before it is to late to stop it?
Finally, try this one. Try looking at the argument in reverse. What arguments can you find which persuade you that it is a good idea to put fluoride into the drinking water? Could these benefits come close to justifying all the possible dangers discussed above? Why should we take such chances with a whole population, which includes people who are known to be particularly vulnerable or sensitive to fluoride? This is especially so since those who are willing to accept fluoride’s risks for their children can buy fluoridated toothpaste from any supermarket. No risk is acceptable if it is avoidable.
1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) (1993). Toxicological Profile for Fluorides, Hydrogen Fluoride, and Fluorine (F). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Public Health Service. ATSDR/TP-91/17.
2. Griffiths, J. and Bryson, C. (1997). Fluoride, Teeth and the Atomic Bomb. Waste Not #414. Waste Not, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617.