BENNINGTON — Go online to Internet search engine www.google.com, type in “fluoride” and hit the return key. It’s easy. And within seconds the search will locate 261,000 web-sites on fluoride. Which do you trust? Take your pick. Visit “Fluoride: Commie Plot or Capitalist Ploy.” Or maybe “The Importance of Fluoride in Strong Teeth.” They all want your vote.
In the deluge of information, is it even possible for an ordinary open-minded individual to find the truth?
Both sides point to the science. Most studies are conducted by toxicologists who “study poisons and their effects, particularly on living systems,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. And by epidemiologists, who use statistics to study what factors affect the distribution of certain diseases.
Unfortunately, even the toxicologists and epidemiologists don’t agree.
Bill Hirzy, Ph.D.., is one man with an opinion. Hirzy is the senior vice president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents lawyers, engineers, scientists and other professionals at the Environmental Protection Agency is Washington, D.C.
The EPA has set standards for water fluoridation, maintaining that up to 4 parts per million of fluoride in water is a safe and legal limit.
But Hirzy and his union oppose fluoridation. The union has a prepared position paper on the topic. And Hirzy himself recently returned to D.C. after testifying on the adverse effects of fluoridation before the California legislature.
In the back of the position paper are more than 20 footnotes citing various studies that the NTEU said prove the negative aspects of fluoride.
The citations include a study by Phyllis Mullenix on how fluoride affects the behavior of rats, one by Jennifer Luke on fluoride levels in the human pineal gland, and five studies by various teams of scientists on the incidence of hip fracture in fluoridated versus non-fluoridated communities.
“When somebody comes to your door and says ‘I have this substance and I want to put it in your water for you to drink the rest of your life,’ what’s the first thing you say?” said Hirzy. “‘What is it? Is it safe?’ That’s what you want to know. And the answer you get is, ‘It’s safe because I said so.'”
Dr. Gary Whitford doesn’t buy Hirzy’s pitch.
Whitford is a toxicologist and a Regents Professor at the Medical College of Georgia. He has studied fluoride for more than 30 years, published 100 papers not including abstracts, and is convinced that “water fluoridation at legal levels is not associated with any adverse effects on health.”
Whitford has read the studies in Hirzy’s position paper. He refers to their authors by first name. He keeps copies of the studies in his home. And he has something to say about each of them.
The Mullenix study involved feeding rats water up to 175 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride. Bennington would have 1 ppm in its drinking water.
The rats were fed this amount to reach the same level of fluoride in their blood plasma as humans, about .059 to .060 ppm, according to the study.
But Whitford said “the concentrations in the plasma of rats were 10 times higher than what 10 ppm in drinking water would do.”
The plasma levels in the study might be reached in patients taking high doses of fluoride as treatment for osteoporosis, said Whitford. But even then, that level would only be reached for a peak 30 to 60 minutes after taking the dose.
“The rates were at peak all the time,” Whitford said. “It’s a real stretch from that to claiming there is neurological damage in humans due to fluoridated water.”
Hirzy sees it differently. “Normally when you set an environmental risk factor, you want to have safety levels 100 times than are seen in animals,” Hirzy said. “At 10 ppm, that’s only 10 times over what Gary Whitford and the EPA want people to drink.”
Hirzy countered that further research by Luke, on gerbils, clearly established the link. He suggested calling both Luke and Mullenix, and even provided their phone numbers.
When you’ve got their response, call Whitford for his take. And so on, and so on. That should clear it all up.
On Wednesday: Banner Staff Writer Mary Martialay looks at how Brattleboro and other towns are dealing with fluoride in the conclusion of our series.