The damage caused to teeth by fluoride has been dismissed as ‘cosmetic’ by the Irish Expert Body on Health and Fluoride. But that is an outrageous minimisation of what is an increasing problem on both sides of the Atlantic. It is an issue, the courts may have to deal with…
In a groundbreaking new move in the campaign to end water fluoridation in the US, the highly respected, campaigning US attorney firm, Public Justice, has become involved in the issue of the harm caused by fluoride, in the form of dental fluorosis.
According to its mission statement, Public Justice aims to “protect people and the environment; hold the powerful accountable; and challenge government, corporate and individual wrongdoing.” As America’s public interest law firm, with 3,000 affiliated attorneys and its HQ in Washington DC, Public Justice carries serious clout. Its involvement in the unfolding Fluoridegate scandal is therefore big news.
The case concerns a 16-year-old girl whose mother, Michelle Nemphos, sued last year under State law in Maryland, to get help with her daughter’s expensive current and future dental care. The girl has dental fluorosis, as a result of exposure to fluoride through Nestle and Dannon fluoridated bottled water. Ms. Nemphos had deliberately ensured that her daughter drank fluoridated bottled water from when she was an infant until she was eight years old, believing that it was good for her teeth.
Nestle and Dannon market their child-size bottles of fluoridated water as especially good for children, with Nestle using the catch-phrase “the one designed with kids in mind.” The labels bear no mention of any of the dangers associated with fluoride, although the high risk of developing dental fluorosis via fluoridated water has long been known by the US government and the food and beverage industry.
The Maryland district court dismissed the Nemphos case, saying that federal law pre-empted Maryland law. Public Justice is one of the groups representing Nemphos in her appeal.
“Advertising like Nestle’s and Dannon’s,” the law firm states, “which induces consumers to purchase a product by touting an ingredient’s benefits without warning of that same ingredient’s known hazards, is generally prohibited by state tort and consumer protection laws. Those laws allow wronged consumers to sue for injuries the product caused.
“But lawsuits over damage caused by fluoride consumption might be thrown out due to federal preemption of laws governing food standards — meaning that any dental fluorosis lawsuits brought under state laws are wiped out by federal laws, leaving injured children without redress…
“That’s what the federal district court allowed to happen to Nemphos.”
The appeal potentially has major ramifications for cities, municipalities and private companies that fluoridate the public water supply. At least 42 er cent of Americans have dental fluorosis. In Ireland the percentage is probably higher, considering 80 per cent of the population drink fluoridated water here, compared to 67 per cent in the US. One successful lawsuit could lead to thousands more.
Based in Washington DC, Chris Nidel is the main lawyer working on the Nemphos case. Before becoming a lawyer, he was a chemical engineer, and worked in a pharmaceutical company – hence he knows a lot more about the chemical industry than most lawyers.
“The Nemphos lawsuit is basically saying that companies should be warning people that there are risks associated with fluoride, along with what they argue to be benefits,” explains Nidel. “Having studied the supposed benefits of fluoride, my position is that I don’t think that the evidence is conclusive, and arguably it’s conclusively inconclusive – which means that fluoride doesn’t prevent cavities.
“We’ve got a shitload of data, and you’d think that with all the people drinking fluoridated water, we would easily be able to figure out whether or not it prevents cavities. Given the fact that some studies say it does, and some say it doesn’t – and that there are studies that show that people who have higher rates of fluorosis also have higher rates of cavities – it seems that the contention that it prevents cavities is at best questionable.
“However, what is absolutely clear is that there are risks. The most obvious one is dental fluorosis, which the US has chosen to call ‘aesthetic’. But you and I know that it’s damage to the crystalline structure of the tooth. It’s damage to your teeth, and people should be compensated for it, so they can have it treated. Fluorosis can be bad; I get phone-calls from people who say their teeth were falling out by the middle of high-school.
“The fact that it’s been characterised as aesthetic is purely political,” Nidel asserts. “It’s designed to protect the industry from lawsuits and liability.” Tellingly, the Irish Expert Body on Fluorides and Health and other Irish pro-fluoridationists also refer to fluorosis as ‘cosmetic’.
“Beyond the risk of fluorosis,” continues Nidel, “fluoride causes thyroid-depression, and puts people at risk of kidney damage, particularly those people on dialysis that are already impaired. And there’s the studies relating fluoride to lowered IQ in children.
“So fluoride is a chemical that we know has biological effects, which we’re consuming at unregulated, unknown dosages, because we’re ingesting it through water and food. Some of us work outside in the heat and we drink three gallons of water a day; some of us have diabetes and we drink a lot of water. Who knows how much fluoride any one person is consuming? We don’t.”
Nidel found a crucial piece of evidence in a document published by the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) entitled Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Recommendations for Using Fluoride to Prevent and Control Dental Caries in the United States, Aug 17, 2001. This evidence may turn out to be extremely important for the case being compiled by the Irish fluoride-free legal campaign, spearheaded by Aisling FitzGibbon, the Girl Against Fluoride.
“On one page of the CDC document,” says Nidel, “it says fluoride benefits the tooth by reducing dental cavities, and the primary mechanism for this is by topical application to adult teeth. And then a couple of pages later, it says fluoride also causes problems for teeth. Those include dental fluorosis – and the way it causes dental fluorosis is by ingestion of fluoride between the ages of 0 and 8. So between the ages of zero and 8, it makes absolutely no sense to drink fluoride. There is no benefit for kids. There is only harm.
“And the other thing,” observes Nidel, “when you see people with fluorosis, what you know is that it occurred between the ages of zero and 8, from them ingesting something that could do them no good. That is huge. There is a disconnect in the policy.
“That’s the scientific argument that supports my case. We’re spending money on putting this stuff into the water supply, so all these kids who are aged 0-8 are getting a chemical that does them no good, but does them harm.
“We know that we’re causing kids fluorosis, because 42 per cent of the population in the US at least has fluorosis. Maybe up to 5 per cent have severe fluorosis. And on top of that, who knows what we’re doing to their kidneys, their thyroids, their bones, their brains etc?
“That’s where I’m at with this case,” says Nidel. “We don’t have to get into a debate about cavities. All you need to say is that cavities are only prevented – if they are prevented – from topical application to adult teeth. That’s it.
“So – maybe fluoride is protective; maybe you should rinse your mouth out with it every day; maybe you should put it on your teeth once a year; maybe you should brush your teeth with it – but you certainly shouldn’t be swallowing it. There’s no need. You wouldn’t go get an x-ray if you didn’t have what you thought was a broken bone. Why take a risk when there’s no benefit?”
Nidel was disappointed that his Nemphos case was thrown out at the first round last year, on a technicality.
“What people need to understand,” he says, “is if this the case loses, it will be on a technicality, wherein the defendant companies are arguing that because the federal government does not require a warning on their labels, the state cannot require a warning either.”
The court in which the Nemphos decision is being appealed is notoriously conservative. But if the legal team win – this autumn or winter – then the case goes back to court. And this is significant for everyone in the world currently being subjected to water fluoridation. Because then, for the first time, promoters of fluoride will be put under oath to answer unanswerable questions about fluoride harm.
“The companies have never denied, and they can’t deny, that their fluoride contributed to my client’s damage,” says Nidel. “And they can’t deny that it’s damage. My question to the heads of toxicology and product safety at Nestle and Dannon would be: you know that this stuff can cause fluorosis? Yes. And when someone has fluorosis, you know that it’s been caused by the ingestion of fluoride? Yes. And you know, based on what the plaintiff has said in this case, that they ingested your fluoride from your product? Yes.
“That’s the question that needs to be asked of all these people that are promoting fluoride: this is causing fluorosis, yes or no? They can’t deny it. The CDC says that 50-80 per cent of a person’s fluoride dose comes from drinking water. So drinking water is a major contributor to fluorosis, wherever there is water fluoridation.
“You can say it’s only aesthetic – but talk to a kid who doesn’t want to smile, who doesn’t want to be in photos, and say it’s aesthetic. That’s one issue. But there are also people with moderate to severe fluorosis, and those people have real dental and health issues.
“Finally you have the question, how do you avoid it? You can’t. If my appeal is successful, I will have a chance to ask those questions, which nobody has been able to publicly ask these people before. I want to get those answers, and so do Fluoride Action Network, and so do all the other people in the world trying to stop this.
“Nemphos is a good case,” Nidel adds, “but there are better cases out there. What I need is the parent of a kid who’s ten or eleven years old, and they’ve just come out of the dentist and the dentist has told them, ‘you’ve got spots on your new adult teeth: it’s dental fluorosis’. And they’ve been drinking the same water from the city ‘X’ for the first eight years of their life. With Nemphos, we could lose on a technicality, and close down this road. But there are other roads.
“I really want to find someone who’s experience is a little less complicated with technicalities,” Nidel concludes. “Then this thing is going to explode.”
Chris Nidel has offered his assistance to the Girl Against Fluoride legal team in Ireland, who are currently gathering cases. If you think you have been damaged by fluoride, contact the Girl Against Fluoride team. For more information on US fluoride litigation, visit www.fluoridelitigation.com. Re: the Nemphos case, click here.