The quality and purity of the drinking water supply has a dramatic influence on the public’s health. What if a sub-population is known to be negatively affected by something artificially added to the water … should city government stop adding that substance, or at least warn the people so that they can make an informed decision?
In November 2008, the Environmental Advisory Board of Austin City Council recommended that the city investigate the costs and benefits of water fluoridation. Later, in July 2009, Austin Health and Human Services put a warning on the city’s Web site, informing mothers of the dangers associated with using fluoridated water for infant formula. In January 2010, the federal government recommended lowering the maximum amount of fluoride in drinking water from 1.2 parts per million to 0.7 ppm, a policy change that validated Fluoride Free Austin’s efforts.
More recently, on October 18, the Public Health and Human Services Committee of Austin City Council considered putting a warning on the water utility bill, informing citizens about the dangers water fluoridation poses to children and adults.
According to government statistics, the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water endangers 31.3 percent of Texas residents. Children five years of age and younger (7.2 percent of the population) are at risk of developing dental fluorosis, a condition that currently affects over 1/3 of adolescents in the United States, and ingestion of too much fluoride can exacerbate health conditions for those suffering from diabetes (7.1 percent of the population), kidney disease (10.1 percent of the population) and hypothyroidism (6.9 percent of the population, many of whom also have diabetes.
For example, ingested fluoride replaces iodine in the thyroid gland and impairs thyroid function, exacerbating hypothyroidism. Those with kidney disease are instructed by their doctors to drink lots of water, so their exposure to fluoride is higher, and because of their impaired kidney functioning they have difficulty filtering out the fluoride. These risk groups were identified by the National Research Council’s 2006 report “Fluoride in Drinking Water, a 700-page report that cites over 1,000 scientific articles.
Eighty-five citizens came to City Hall to testify about the possibility of adding a fluoride warning to the water utility bill. In fact, so many people came to testify that this monthly meeting had to be moved to a larger venue. Of those 85 citizens, 100 percent were in support of putting a warning on the water utility bill. Not one private citizen came to testify in opposition of warning the people of the dangers of this public health practice.
The city already has a warning on the city Web site informing parents of the dangers of giving fluoridated water to infants, but how often do expecting mothers, especially low-income mothers, check the city’s Web site for health updates? Council Member Riley also shared concerns about the Web site, saying that “some of the people who may want more information may not know about the Web site.” The issue at hand, then, was how can the city warn low-income families who do not have reliable Internet access about the dangers of water fluoridation?
The warning Fluoride Free Austin proposed to add to the water utility bill is comprised entirely of data from government studies, the material safety data sheet for fluorosilicic acid (the chemical added to Austin’s city water) and the current fluoride warning on Austin’s city website (see below).
Dentists, PhDs, medical doctors and nutritionists testified and informed City Council of the negative health effects of fluoridation. One speaker, Dr. Jeremy Wiseman, M.D., spoke about the absence of dosage control and informed consent. “When I prescribe a drug I sit down with the patient and inform her of the benefits and potential side effects of the medicine. And then I ask for her permission to medicate her. That process is missing with fluoridation. And dosage – if I were to give the same prescription of Amoxicillin to an adult as an infant I would lose my license. So why does it make sense to have the same dosage of fluoride in every glass of drinking water?
Who would oppose ensuring that government data reached the citizens of Austin? The Texas Dental Association. Council Member Riley told the 85 citizens eager for a warning that a TDA representative told him that they opposed this warning because “it will cause unnecessary fear and confusion amongst the public.” Austin Health and Human Services also testified in opposition to adding a warning to the water utility bill, even though they supported putting a warning on the city’s Web site.
If giving government research to the people will instill fear in them, shouldn’t the city be obligated to share that information with the citizens right away so that they can make an informed decision about their health?
After hearing the expert testimony in support of the warning and the health department’s opposition, City Council chose to punt. Council Member Riley proposed a motion that would allow more time to collect information from the same government agencies that have supported the practice of fluoridation for the past 30 years.
Fluoride Free Austin founder Rae Nadler-Olenick was not surprised with the result. Despite the group’s continuous effort to provide for the council with peer-reviewed scientific data the last three years, city council chose to collect their information from “the same biased agencies that have been fraudulently supporting fluoridation for years and years.”
Many cities are going further than just warning the citizens about fluoridation and are stopping the practice all together. For example: In September 2011, College Station City Council voted 6-1 to end fluoridation.
Will Austin City Council have the political fortitude of College Station and adequately inform the public of the known dangers of this public health policy?
Even with the inaction of City Council, Fluoride Free Austin won a substantial victory: Scientific evidence from experts was entered into the record, and it was made abundantly clear to the city by the 85 citizens that came in support of the warning that the people of Austin want to be informed about the negative health consequences of water fluoridation.
Austin City Council has a civic and moral duty to inform parents and citizens about the undisputed dangers of water fluoridation so that they can make informed decisions about what they put into their bodies.
Below is the warning that Fluoride Free Austin proposed to add to the water utility bill that TDA warned would cause “unnecessary fear and confusion.”
“In January of 2011 the CDC lowered the maximum level of fluoride recommended in tap water from 1.2 ppm to 0.7 ppm.1 Austin currently fluoridates at 0.7 ppm.2 Prolonged or repeated overexposure to fluoride compounds may cause fluorosis.3 Fluorosis is characterized by skeletal changes, consisting of osteosclerosis and osteomalacia and by mottled discoloration of the enamel of teeth if exposure occurs during enamel formation of children and infants.3
If you are concerned about fluorosis in infants in children, you can minimize exposure to fluoride by using non-fluoridated water, for children and for reconstitution of infant formula.2”
1 January 7, 2011 CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/fact_sheets/cwf_qa.htm#12
2 City of Austin, Fluoride in Drinking Water: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/water/fluoride.htm
3 MSDS Sheet for hydrofluorosilicic acid, source of fluoride for fluoridation of Austin Municipal water supply, Mosaic Crop Nutrition, 13830 Circa Crossing Dr., Lithia, FL 33547, http://www.mosaicco.com/, 866-928-7901.
If you think Austin City Council should warn the public about the known negative health consequences of water fluoridation, you can take action by calling them and registering your opinion:
Chris Riley – Place 1
Phone: (512) 974-2260
Mike Martinez – Place 2
Phone: (512) 974-2264
Laura Morrison – Place 4
Kathie Tovo – Place 3
Robert W. B. Love Jr. is is a second year student in the Master’s of Public Affairs program at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also an editor for the LBJ Journal of Public Affairs and the Baines Report. Robert hosts the radio and television show Lone Star Politics every Friday evening from 8-9 pm. Listen at 91.7 FM, KVRX or watch on Public Access Television, Channel 10. www.LoneStarPoliticsRadio.com