Fluoride Action Network

FAN has lost a friend, and the world, a great journalist

Fluoride Action Network | Bulletin | January 19, 2021

A few days ago, FAN learned the sad news of the passing of Sharon Begley from cancer. Sharon was one of the few top notch science journalists in this country (along with Bette Hileman) who dared risk the wrath of the medical and public health establishment by covering important developments on the science of fluoride’s toxicity.  In this respect, her first major article appeared in Newsweek (Feb. 5, 1990) before Ellen and I became involved in the fluoridation battle.This story dealt with an animal cancer study overseen by the National Toxicology Program that found an increase in osteosarcoma in male rats. Begley followed this initial article with additional coverage (May 7, 1990), but the study was later downplayed (covered up) by a 1991 US Department of Health and Human Services review.

In 1992, the headline of another Begley article, published in Newsweek: “Is science censored? Ideology may influence what studies get published.” This article covered several  issues, such as chlorination,

“Bias doesn’t end with publication, Harvard’s Chalmers says. In the year of the spinmeister, science gets spun, too. The New York Times called the cancer risk from chlorination “tiny,” even though the 38 percent and 21 percent elevated risks for bladder and rectal cancers, respectively, are 380,000 and 210,000 times higher than the level the government defines as a “negligible” risk. The National Cancer Institute began its press release on the study, “Chlorinated drinking water offers immense health benefits.”

As well as fluoride,

 “What many scientists object to is what they perceive as a double standard that welcomes studies that conclude all is well but erects barriers to those that raise alarms. One leading cancer journal, for instance, recently published an industry study concluding that the fluoride added to drinking water does not increase the risk of cancer in Lab animals. That same journal rejected a government study, by researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, that reported an increase in rare bone cancers among male rats fed fluoride. The journal explained that it does not publish Lab-animal studies anymore. “No one wants to touch this,” says toxicologist James Huff of NIEHS about the persistent evidence that fluoride poses some hazard.”

In 2005, in the Wall Street Journal, Begley covered the story of the human osteosarcoma study by Elise Bassin, and the attempted cover up by Bassin’s thesis advisor at Harvard, Dr. Chester Douglas.  This story broke in the Wall Street Journal on the same day that FAN joined the protest of the American Dental Association’s “celebration” in Chicago of 70 years of water fluoridation. This protest was organized by Carol Kopf of the New York State Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation. Carol is now FAN’s media officer.

On re-reading Sharon’s WSJ article, it is impressive to see just how thorough and succinct she was and the number of sources she cited.  She covered a lot of the history and many of the salient points of the fluoridation debate. She included a quote from William Maas (Director of the Oral Health Division of the CDC) admitting that the benefits of fluoride were largely topical,

“Even if fluoridation causes just a few hundred cases of osteosarcoma every year, does the public health benefit justify that risk? “When we started fluoridating water, we thought to get the benefits it would have to get incorporated into the enamel before the tooth erupted,” which happens only if you swallow it, says the CDC’s Dr. Maas. But that turns out not to be so. Topical fluoride, as in gels and toothpaste, works at least as well.”

Sharon rightly opined that such small benefits (from ingestion) should have put into question the practice of forcing risks of harm on people from swallowing it – especially young boys who might die from osteosarcoma.

FAN’s Research Director, Chris Neurath, had the following to say about Begley:

“…she was brave. She didn’t shy away from controversial topics. For example, her many articles dealing with the controversial “third-rail” topic of water fluoridation are some of the only objective, carefully written, and illuminating articles on the topic to ever appear in mainstream media. One of the best compliments I can offer Sharon Begley, from my perspective as a scientist and environmental activist who follows how scientific subjects are reported to the general public, is that in her articles where I had first hand knowledge of the topic, I didn’t find a single factual error. I don’t think I can say that about any article by any journalist on a topic where I was thoroughly familiar with the topic.

To Sharon’s spirit, and to her family: Thank you and may she be an inspiration to others.”

Both Sharon and her husband Edwarth Groth (who had written his PhD thesis at Stanford on the fluoridation controversy and who later went on to become the director of Consumer Reports) knew that opining on the fluoridation debate had proved the end of many careers (the third rail).

Even though FAN continued to send hot tips on more scientific studies indicating harm, Sharon never repeated her groundbreaking efforts on the osteosarcoma story. However, she did pass a hot tip onto a Newsweek journalist who interviewed me and others, but sadly that story was spiked by his editors. Most disappointingly, Sharon never tackled the fluoride-neurotoxicity issue even though she wrote several books that dealt with the brain. We can only hope that someone of her journalistic stature and integrity will do so. Meanwhile, FAN joins many others who mourn her loss and commiserate with her family.


Paul Connett, PhD
Executive Director
Fluoride Action Network

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