Eleven unions representing about 7,000 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 12,000 unionized employees sent letters to a key congressional committee calling for the moratorium pending a review of all the science on the risks and benefits of fluoridation.
They also asked for an investigation into whether the study linking fluoride to bone cancer was suppressed. The study, completed four years ago at the Harvard School of Dentistry, found a sevenfold increase in bone cancer cases among young boys.
Fluoridation opponents question why the study has not been released, while health officials say it has not gone through the proper review and the results were even questioned by the person who did the study. The unions’ action comes about two years after Gary Foreman asked the Valparaiso Water Board to halt fluoridation of the city’s water.
The unions asked EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to issue a public warning in the form of an advanced warning pending the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, which is not expected to complete its study before 2006.
The announcement of the unions’ action was to be released two weeks ago when the letters were actually sent, but it was delayed because none of the committee leaders or Johnson was in Washington, D.C., because of the summer recess.
“We sent out the letters as soon as we got a substantial number of union colleagues who thought it was an issue to deal with,” said William Hirzy, vice president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “The trigger has been the gross violation of scientific integrity. They had solid work done at Harvard. That’s the sort of flagrant violation of integrity that ought to trigger EPA action to issue a precautionary warning to the public.”
Hirzy said health officials are reluctant to change what has been accepted practice for 60 years because “strong institutional reputations are at stake.”
“They have been saying it’s safe and effective for all these decades, and the science was mighty thin then,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to back away from that. It took a long time for the feds to admit they were injecting plutonium in people and that they were allowing men to die of syphilis. They hate to admit a mistake. The (American Dental Association) is looking down the different gun barrel of liability.
“We have no fish to fry. It is not a career enhancing goal to come out against a policy that’s been promoted for 60 years. When science is used in a way to pervert the law, we view that as an attack on the Constitution and the law. We are asking for a full hearing by (Congress). The last one was in 1978, and there’s been a lot of information since then.”
Opponents of fluoridation point out that most countries in Europe, along with several others around the world, have discontinued the practice. Anti-fluoridation Web sites abound, and they include information that swallowing fluoridated toothpaste or mouthwash can result in acute poisoning or death.
They cite a 1993 Food and Drug Administration as saying fluoride was never approved and that there is no proof it is safe or effective in reducing tooth decay or dental disease but does cause dental fluorosis, a discoloring of the teeth, in one in five children. In fact, under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, fluoride is listed as a contaminant.
Paul Sechrist, a retired chemist who lives in Chesterton and formerly worked at the Gary Wastewater Treatment Plant and with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Water Management Office, is among the opponents of fluoridation of public water supplies because it doesn’t necessarily benefit everyone.
“My biggest objection to it is that when you put it in the water supply, everybody gets it and anybody with a depressed immune system, such as those with heart trouble or diabetes, is subject to further health problems,” Sechrist said. “If people want it, they can get it in toothpaste or soft drinks.”
In a letter to The Times a couple of years ago, Sechrist said fluoride accumulates in the body in the bones, pineal gland and other tissues. He said he was glad to see that EPA employees were calling for the moratorium
“There’s so much stuff (about fluoride), and you can’t ignore it,” he said. “We’ve been sold such a bill of goods.”