Fluoride Action Network

Fluoride scare led Saginaw to violate its own charter for 30 years

Source: The Saginaw News | November 22nd, 2008 | By Justin Engel
Location: United States, Michigan

Saginaw officials aren’t worried about a Communist takeover.

Not anymore, at least.

The City Charter advisory panel has discussed changes to the 70-page governing blueprint and discovered a half-century-old chapter likely authored under the heat of the Red Scare.

The panel wants to delete Chapter 18, added in 1954, that forbade the City Council from ordering fluoride-based chemicals to clean the city’s water supply.

A 1968 state policy outlawed a municipality’s ability to ban fluoride, but a 1978 state law reversed that law, rendering Chapter 18 valid again. The city never amended the chapter despite reintroducing fluoride into the water, meaning Saginaw has violated its charter for 30 years.

City Attorney Thomas H. Fancher said Saginaw likely voted in the policy because of a 1950s-era conspiracy theory that communists would infiltrate water treatment plants and add fluoride to the cleaning chemicals, undermining public health.

When a reporter asked Fancher if he was serious, he nodded. Mayor Joyce J. Seals, the panel’s vice chairwoman, turned to him with a silent, stunned expression.

“It was almost a joke, even in the ’50s,” Fancher said.

Author Robert D. Johnston’s 2007 book, “The Politics of Healing,” documented one of the anti-fluoridationists’ leaders; Charles Bett, a onetime Ohio dentist and president of the Anti-Cancer Club of America.

“(Fluoridation is) better than using the atom bomb because the atom bomb has to be made, has to be transported,” the book quoted Bett once saying, “while poisonous fluoride has been placed right beside the water supplies by the Americans themselves ready to be dumped into the water mains whenever a Communist desires.”

The theory lost momentum by the 1960s. Hollywood lampooned the notion in director Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove,” when a character sparks a nuclear war to thwart a communist plot to “sap and impurify” the “precious bodily fluids” of Americans with fluoridated water.

Public Works Director Thomas J. Darnell said the anti-fluoride movement remains — although communist fears no longer fuel it.

He said the city’s fluoride feeder broke a few years ago, leaving the water without the chemical for two months.

“I had someone call in from California who wanted us (to keep the chemical out), so it hasn’t totally gone away,” Darnell said. “Then we had a dentist show up at a City Council meeting, saying we had to get (the feeder) working again.”

Darnell said most dentists are proponents of fluoride, although his childhood was against such treatment.

“I have a lot of fillings and crowns,” Darnell said.

On the other hand, his adult son — who grew up drinking Saginaw water — never had a cavity, Darnell said.