Scary news travels fast. Within weeks after the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released a study citing adverse health effects of fluoride in water supplies, the Hightstown Board of Health introduced a draft recommendation to the Borough Council supporting a ban on water fluoridation.
Dylan Ross, an alternate Board of Health member, told the Hightstown council “there is a possibility we might be poisoning people.” Hightstown adds 1 part per million (ppm) of fluoride to its public water supplies.
Hightstown is not the only town in New Jersey that should be concerned. Other New Jersey towns fluoridate their drinking water and could be putting the public’s health at risk.
Although the Research Council study focused on drinking water supplies that have naturally occurring fluoride at levels of 4 ppm and higher, the study is highly relevant to municipalities that add 1 ppm fluoride to water supplies. What the study shows is a disappearing margin of safety for fluoride ingestion.
The Research Council found that the current 4 ppm standard for fluoride is too high and has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to make the standard more stringent in order to protect children against severe dental fluorosis and all age groups from bone fractures.
The report reviewed other animal and human studies that show adverse effects in adults and children when exposed to even low levels of fluoride. These included lower IQ in children, increased hip fracture rates in the elderly and impaired thyroid function.
Even if there are low levels of fluoride in your drinking water, whether added or naturally occurring, people might be concerned that they could be getting too much fluoride. Certainly adding additional fluoride should be reconsidered, as water and dental care are not the only source. Many other sources such as processed beverages and foods (Gerber’s White Grape Juice, Coca Cola Classic, green and black tea, rice, peas, shrimp, chicken with broth, sugar and table salt) and pesticide residues on food can easily make you exceed a safe intake of fluoride.
The Research Council study revealed another alarming fact. While there have been numerous studies showing the adverse health effects of naturally occurring fluoride in drinking water, huge data gaps exist in meaningful research on the practice of water fluoridation — a process that adds a fluoride compound to drinking water called hydrofluosilicic acid. This type of fluoride is a waste byproduct of the pesticide industry that also contains contaminants such as arsenic, lead and mercury.
This lack of research regarding the safety of fluoride as an additive in drinking water is startling, considering the United States has been fluoridating water supplies of up to 162 million Americans in its 56 years of use.
What’s even more alarming is that the United States has continued its use without adequate research on its safety, while Europe has taken on a “better safe than sorry” approach to water fluoridation. Ninety percent of European countries have decided to take precautionary measures by banning water fluoridation. And, according to World Health Organization figures, European children’s teeth are just as good, if not better than ours.
The Hightstown Board of Health is making the right move in recommending the borough stop adding fluoride to its water supply. According to the director of Hightstown’s Department of Public Works, fluoride is fed into the water system by a pump that can easily be turned on and off.
The bottom line is that topical applications of fluoride in toothpaste and fluoride rinses are a much more effective tool for preventing tooth decay than ingesting it. No other preventative medication is delivered to our residents via a drinking water additive.
Until we know that water fluoridation is safe, wouldn’t you say it’s time we turned the pump off, not just in Hightstown but also statewide?
Jennifer Vickers is an organizer and communications director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, Belmar.