A California federal judge overseeing a bench trial challenging fluoridation of drinking water suggested during closing arguments Wednesday that he hold off ruling so that the EPA can reevaluate fluoride’s risks, saying the agency apparently used the wrong standard and hadn’t considered additional information raised at trial.
“Doesn’t it make sense to have the agency take a second look?” U.S. District Judge Edward Chen asked attorneys for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the citizens groups suing the agency under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The judge’s proposal came just moments after he heard closing arguments in a two-week bench trial via videoconference over whether the level of fluoride in community drinking water in the U.S. presents an unreasonable risk to public health.
Judge Chen floated the idea that instead of him issuing a ruling right out of the gate, the EPA could have time to reexamine the fluoridation issue. He said the agency could do so with the benefit of all the new scientific studies that have come out since citizens’ groups filed their Toxic Substances Control Act petition to ban fluoridation in 2016, and that this time around the EPA could use the proper standard of review.
“The point is, what was presented to the EPA is a very, very different record than what I have now,” Judge Chen said, noting that after hearing the evidence presented at trial, he has concluded that “there is serious evidence here” and that new studies are raising “serious questions” about the health effects of fluoride on human brain development.
The judge said it’s undisputed that fluoride can, at some level, be a neurological hazard. The EPA doesn’t dispute that, but what has been hotly disputed at trial is the level at which a neurological hazard exists.
“It occurred to me,” Judge Chen said, “that the EPA appears to have applied a standard of causation, which from my read of TSCA is not accurate, is not a proper application, not the proper standard.” He added that the plaintiffs need only show an association, not causation, in order to determine that fluoride poses an unreasonable risk to public health.
Judge Chen asked the parties to consider the possibility of either an amended petition and reconsideration by the EPA or a new petition altogether, saying he would hope that the agency would use the opportunity to look at the new evidence and apply the proper standard…
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