Dr. David Kennedy, fluoride information officer and past president of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, joined Jeff Green, National Director of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, in addressing a gathering of community activists at the Mermaid on the afternoon of Saturday, October 13.
“I do not consider myself to be an ‘anti-fluoride advocate,'” said Green, surprising many in the room. “No more than I consider myself to be an anti-mercury advocate, or an anti-lead advocate, or anything else. What I am for is keeping our drinking water safe. I think that is a policy most of the public, and especially those with children, can agree with.”
Then Green qualified his stance. The chemical most commonly used in public water fluoridation today, hydrofluorosilic acid, is not manufactured in a laboratory under strict conditions, as most people, including doctors and dentists, believe. To the contrary, these chemicals come directly from the pollution scrubbers of the phosphate fertilizer manufacturing plants, said Green. Hydrofluorosilic acid is a hazardous, toxic waste. It is more toxic than lead. It is a poison – even a teaspoonful will kill you, he continued. “If you’re asking for a show of hands on who wants a highly corrosive toxic waste to be mixed into their drinking water, then I’m not for that and I don’t think many people would be.”
Emphasizing the corrosive nature of fluorides, which are prized in industry for their ability to etch glass and polish aluminum, among other purposes, Green noted that the hydrofluorosilic acid used for public water fluoridation is so corrosive that it can eat through the aluminum and stainless steel tankers used to haul it from the phosphate fertilizer factories in Florida to the water treatment plants in California. He also mentioned a 40-gallon spill of the hazardous chemical near a treatment plant in San Jose and a recent, much larger spill, at a treatment facility in Utah where, Green said, the material was so corrosive it ate through the concrete containment barriers.
“Since when is toxic waste good enough to drink?” asked Green. “When they call it fluoridation,” he said, answering his own question, then added, “The nature of fluoride is not altered by changing the label on the back of the truck.”
Green said that very few people – “perhaps five to 15 percent at most” – on either side of the debate are truly educated on the science behind the use of hydrofluorosilic acid in public water supplies. But he noted that because public water fluoridation has been a subject of controversy for so long and because people are exposed to many other kinds of fluoride used in a variety of ways in daily life and industry, many people come to the table with a “cabinet full” of information in their minds about fluoride, some of it accurate, some of it not.
Although much of Kennedy’s and Green’s presentation was given over to a chemistry and toxicology lesson pertaining to the science of fluoride, Kennedy cautioned against trying to “pound people over the head with scientific arguments.” If it becomes a matter of one expert versus another, he said, people grow tired of it, not knowing whom to believe. At this point, Green said, water fluoridation “is not a scientific debate, it is a political one.”
Sixty-five percent of the drinking water in the United States is currently fluoridated, said Green, thanks to a massive lobbying effort by chemical manufacturers and the trade associations, such as the American Dental Association, to which they contribute. But until recently, the Western states, such as California, have been able to stave off the drive to mass medication of their populations with fluoride. Proposals to fluoridate were typically voted down by the public – in 1975, for example, the City of Los Angeles voted “no” to fluoridation. In the end, however, the trade associations and their lobbyists managed an end-run around public participation in the debate over the process by sponsoring a statewide fluoridation mandate before the state legislature in 1995.
Still, that bill did not require any community to fluoridate its water supply unless they had available funding independent of taxpayer and ratepayer levies. And the state mandate to fluoridate would not have applied to small communities, such as Topanga and Malibu, with fewer than 10,000 hook-ups, nor to water wholesalers, such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).
Despite the almost shibbolethic declarations by fluoridation proponents that the process is safe and effective in fighting tooth decay, Green and Kennedy argued that the science does not back that up. Several studies, including one in Tucson, have been done actually showing higher rates of tooth decay in fluoridated areas than in other areas without fluoridation; other studies have shown no statistical difference in tooth decay rates attributable to the fluoridation of water sources. While allowing that topically applied fluorides, such as the pharmaceutical-quality compounds found in toothpaste and dental sealants, may well provide an effective prophylactic to tooth decay, Kennedy said systemic absorption of fluoride in drinking water was not only worthless but potentially harmful.
Experience and studies show that water fluoridation leads to over-exposure to fluoride, said Kennedy. Dental fluorosis – evidenced by spotting and pitting of the teeth – which he called the “first sign of overdose of fluoride,” was endemic among 66 percent of children in areas where water had been fluoridated, said Kennedy, who went on to accuse fluoride proponents of watering down even those statistics. “For them to call it ‘moderate fluorosis,’ it has to be the whole damn tooth’ [mottled by fluorosis stains and pitting], and it doesn’t get to be ‘severe’ until part of the tooth is missing,” Kennedy stated with bitter sarcasm.
Fluorides are also used in the production of rat and roach poisons and flea collars for dogs and cats, and fluoride-based pesticides are routinely used to fumigate lettuce, grapes, raisins, nuts, potatoes and other produce, especially when imported into the United States. “They’re also in powdered eggs,” said Green. “Now you may think you don’t eat powdered eggs, nobody seems to like them much. But where do you find them? In pastries and food mixes everywhere.” Thus, said Green and Kennedy, unless an individual is eating almost exclusively locally grown, organic produce, they are already ingesting high quantities of fluoride into their systems. “Who washes a raisin?” asked Green rhetorically.
Kennedy and Green also maintained there was ample scientific evidence of other adverse health effects caused by water fluoridation. “Since 1994, there have been six publications that link fluoride exposure to adverse health effects on the brain; … there have been no studies that show the health benefits of fluoride.” Several studies have also shown the link between fluoridation and cancer deaths, said Green, who claimed that fluoride’s proponents in the chemical industries and trade associations have gone out of their way to suppress such data. He pointed to the firing of Dr. William Marcus, Senior Science Advisor and toxicologist in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Safe Drinking Water, who Green said was fired by the EPA for demanding an independent analysis of Congressionally-ordered toxicological data that Marcus claimed was improperly reclassified by the EPA when it showed a definite link between fluoride and cancer. Dr. Marcus was ordered reinstated after a court found that the EPA destroyed documents and lied about evidence in the case, said Green.
Green pointed to three landmark lawsuits since 1979 that resulted in findings of fact by impartial trial judges that fluoridation resulted in severe adverse health effects. Though the cases were later overturned on appeal for technical reasons unrelated to the merits, Green said the factual findings remained untouched. In one case, the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated, “In my view, the evidence is quite convincing that the addition of sodium fluoride to the public water supply at one part per million is extremely deleterious to the human body … and there is no evidence to the contrary.” In another, Judge Anthony Farris of Texas found, “the artificial fluoridation of public water supplies may cause or contribute to the cause of cancer, genetic damage, intolerant reactions, and chronic toxicity, including dental mottling … and may aggravate malnutrition and existing illness.”
In addition to the adverse health effects of fluoride itself when systemically ingested as part of the water supply, Green and Kennedy noted the problems created by contaminants in the chemicals used to fluoridate. For example, they pointed to one study of 450,000 children in three different states which they said showed an enormous increase in the blood lead levels of those drinking fluoridated water; lead is a common contaminant of hydrofluorosilic acid, the fluoridating chemical the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) proposes to use in Topanga’s water.
Moreover, because of the ability of high income groups to evade the deleterious effects of fluoridation by installing expensive kinds of home-based water filtration systems (a simple carbon filter won’t do, they said) or by purchasing nonfluoridated bottled water (some bottled water comes straight from the tap, Green warned), there is a disparate impact of the negative effects of water fluoridation on the poor and on racial minorities. Green said the incidence of increased blood-lead levels in the study was six times as high for African-American children and four times as high for Hispanic-American children in the study as for Caucasians.
According to a toxicological profile by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1993, “the elderly, diabetics, people with deficiencies of calcium, magnesium, and/or Vitamin C, and people with cardiovascular and kidney problems may be unusually susceptible to the toxic effects of fluorides.”
These heightened susceptibilities, when added to the public’s “excessive and uncontrolled exposure” to fluorides, from other sources, such as food intake, medications, and airborne and contact exposure to the chemical, further complicates the near impossibility of properly controlling “dose” when fluoride is placed in the water supply, said Green and Kennedy. Kennedy pointed to the work of Dr. Kathleen Thiessin, a co-author of the National Research Council’s Report on fluoride. Thiessen testified before the MWD last August that its plans to fluoridate would place many subgroups, particularly infants and young children, over the maximum recommended exposure levels based on the anticipated quantity of water consumed per unit of body weight. Kennedy said that current medical and dental standards do not approve of “any” fluoride supplementation for infants or pregnant women. Pointing to charts published by the American Dental Association, which nonetheless approves of water fluoridation, detailing the maximum amount of fluoride supplementation dentists and doctors should prescribe even in unfluoridated areas, Kennedy said that at the level of fluoride concentration planned by MWD, children would be consuming an amount of fluoride that would be “gross malpractice if any physician or dentist were to write a prescription for it.”
Green urged those who cared about the safety of drinking water in their communities not to give up simply because they were “out-gunned” or out-financed by fluoridation proponents. “Hold your public officials accountable,” he urged. “Demand that they produce even one peer-reviewed, long-term study of the toxicological effects of this product, hydrofluorosilic acid, before they allow it to be added to your water. They can’t do it. There aren’t any.”
Following the meeting, the Messenger asked MWD spokesperson Edgar Dymally, which had no representative present at the October 13 meeting to challenge any of the factual assertions put forward by Green and Kennedy, whether his agency in fact had such a study. “No,” he responded. “We’re not required to. They’re asking for that because they know we don’t have one. They know it doesn’t exist.” Dymally insisted that MWD was entitled to rely upon a list of chemicals certified by industry group NSF, International, as safe for use in water treatment, without looking into whether manufacturers had submitted the proper documentation, such as long-term toxicological studies, to warrant such a certification. “If he [Green] has a problem, it’s with the EPA, not with MWD.”
Green says the EPA gave up regulation of water additives in the late 1990s, and that the safety of hydrofluorosilic acid has never been tested by that agency, nor by the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control.