It comes in a package marked with a skull and crossbones, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rank it as the ninth-greatest health achievement of the 20th century. In Salina, there are those who see the addition of fluoride to the city’s public water supply as a blessing and those who see it as a curse.
“I echo the sentiments of the National Institute of Health and CDC as fluoride in water being one of the greatest health benefits of the 20th century,” said Dr. John Adams, a Salina dentist. “The evidence of reducing cavities is unequivocal.”
But Lou Tryon, with the anti-fluoridation group Salina Cares (not related to the former free health clinic Salina Cares), disagrees.
“Fluoride is a known contaminant and poison,” Tryon said. “Many people are very sensitive to fluoride in Salina.”
Fluoride has been added to the city water supply since 1968, 12 years after the public voted against adding fluoride to the city’s water. More than 40 Kansas communities add fluoride to their water.
According to the Kansas Department of Health and Human Services, the optimal level of fluoride in a public water system is 0.7 parts per million — or 0.7 milligrams per liter– which promotes the “public health benefits” of fluoride. The maximum allowable level, set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, is 4 ppm.
In 2011, the city’s water had fluoride levels between 0.77 ppm and 1.2 ppm.
The city spends about $14,000 a year on fluoride, which Tryon calls a waste of money.
“Ninety-nine percent of it doesn’t even go in your body,” Tryon said. “It is harming the environment. It ends up in the stream.”
The right to choose
Tryon said Salina Cares’ complaint isn’t necessarily about fluoride but about the right to choose.
“We are not upset about fluoride, because if dentists want to use fluoride drops or treatment, they can,” Tryon said.
When a Salina Cares member asked City Manager Jason Gage about the right to choose, Gage told that person that they could buy bottled water. He said they didn’t have to drink city water.
“It is piped into our homes. If we are going to be a civilized society, you have to have running water,” Tryon said. “Since I live in Salina, I am required to pay for water and sewer. We should expect a safe product.”
Adams said fluoride is safe. He said he has seen a noticeable difference in his patients from Salina and elsewhere since he started practicing in 1975.
“When I came to town, there were no dentists who wanted to work on kids, so I did the majority of kids,” Adams said. “I would take a lot of kids to the hospital to put them under to do the work; five to six kids on a Friday every month.”
Adams said these children all had major dental issues, but most had something else in common: they lived outside of Salina.
“Eighty to 90 percent of these kids came from Beloit, Minneapolis and other places where there isn’t fluoride in the water,” Adams said. “We rarely would see a kid who grew up in Salina. It was a dramatic difference in the number of cases where fluoride was in the water versus where it isn’t.”
Fluorosis isn’t serious
Adams said a side effect of fluoridation can be dental fluorosis, or as Tryon called it, “fluoride poisoning.” Dental fluorosis occurs when a person is overexposed to fluoride. Fluorosis causes discoloration of the teeth.
“I have seen people with hard, but not decayed, teeth from out in western Kansas where there is way too much naturally occurring fluoride in the water,” Adams said. “It can be a white splotch on the teeth or dark brown, but it is all cosmetic damage and not organ damage.”
In Salina’s water
The city of Salina uses sodium fluorosilicate in its water, a byproduct of the manufacture of phosphorite, which is used to make phosphate fertilizer, according to the CDC. The CDC lists sodium fluorosilicate and other fluoride additives as safe for humans, but Tryon said that isn’t the case.
According to testing results from the city of Salina, the water that is distributed throughout the city includes not only fluoride but arsenic and barium, which are used in poisons; lasso, which comes from herbicide runoff; nitrate, which comes from fertilizer runoff; cloudiness from soil runoff; copper and lead, from the corrosion in plumbing, and other various metals.
Tryon said that the phosphate used to create the sodium fluorosilicate contains lead, arsenic and uranium.
Animals with 2 heads
“This started as a way to help the fertilizer and aluminum industry to get rid of this hazardous waste byproduct,” Tryon said. “There were lots of lawsuits because the vapor from the fluoride came out (where it was being produced) and was mutating animals. They had animals with five legs instead of four and two heads instead of one.”
Tryon said the CDC calling it one of the top 10 health developments in the 20th century was a (public relations) move.
“Just because they say it is good for you doesn’t mean it is,” Tryon said. “There is no scientific proof. It is just a statement.”
The problem went away
Albert Burgstahler, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Kansas, said he has seen the effects of fluoridated water in Kansas.
Burgstahler is publisher of the journal Fluoride. He said the journal isn’t recognized by the medical community, but it does have an international board.
He started studying fluoride at KU when he was working on making amino acids. He said it piqued his interest after he read that people drinking fluoridated water were at risk for low thyroid functioning.
“I began to realize the danger when I was diagnosed with low thyroid,” Burgstahler said. “My doctor put me on thyroxin. I was drinking more water than desirable, which was about four to five quarts a day.”
Burgstahler said he decided to switch to distilled water and his problems cleared up. He said his doctor checked him out and found his thyroid problem had disappeared.
“I determined that I was sensitive to fluoride at this level,” Burgstahler said. “That is when I got involved with the journal Fluoride.”
According to the CDC, there is no scientific proof that thyroid problems are caused by fluoridated water.
The effect on animals
Burgstahler said he has studied the effect of fluoridation in animals.
“There was a guy in Auburn, near Topeka, who was raising chinchillas when the city took over an area that used to be well water,” Burgstahler said. “When they switched to city water, the chinchillas started having stillbirths and scruffy fur.”
Burgstahler said the man worked at KU with him, and the pair decided to do an experiment. They used distilled water for half of the chinchillas and city water on the other half.
“The ones on distilled water cleared up and those on city water continued to suffer,” Burgstahler said. He said a crocodile farm near Kansas City had similar issues.
According to a care guide for chinchillas from Petco, chinchillas are supposed to have “filtered, chlorine-free water.” Auburn’s water, like Salina’s, includes chlorine.
Is it misinformation?
One issue on which Tryon, Burgstahler and Adams agree is the use of fluoridated water in baby formula. They say fluoridated water shouldn’t be used by people preparing baby formula. Even the American Dental Association, which supports fluoridation, recommends that people not use fluoridated water in baby formula.
But while Tryon and Burgstahler claim fluoridated water lowers the IQ of children, Adams said that isn’t true.
Tryon and Burgstahler cite a Harvard professor’s 2012 study that showed areas with fluoride have children with lower IQs.
“It didn’t take much fluoride to lower the IQ of people with not very good diets,” Burgstahler said.
Adams said the authors of the study have renounced their work. The study was done in a poor region of China and the fluoride levels were much higher in that area.
Tryon claims there is ample evidence to prove the ills of fluoride. She said there are at least “seven pages of references” supporting an end to fluoridation of the water. The CDC lists scientific studies for each of its claims for fluoride, as well.
“We are trying not to mislead people,” Tryon said.
Discussion good, but …
Despite his differences in opinion with Tryon and Burgstahler, Adams said there is nothing wrong with the discussion. He said he has seen evidence of the benefit of fluoride, and most medical associations support it.
“It has been in the water for a long time,” Adams said. “As you go through life, it is a balance of risks of taking something versus the other risks. You take the research that isn’t valid or valid, but misquoting the information or providing misinformation is a tremendous problem.”