FOX ANCHOR 1: Fluoride in water is supposed to fight tooth decay but could it also cause cancer? It’s a controversial question.
FOX ANCHOR 2: Now Harvard University is actually caught up in the debate with serious allegations that an ivy league professor may be covering up the truth. Fox Undercover’s Mike Beaudet is investigating the possible link between fluoride and cancer.
REPORTER: Questions about the safety of fluoride in drinking water are not new, but now the debate has shifted to Harvard University where a professor and his doctoral student are at odds over research – research that could show a link between fluoride in drinking water and bone cancer in boys. The professor doesn’t think there’s a connection but his opinion is under scrutiny since he’s also a paid consultant for the toothpaste industry.
REPORTER: Dr. Chester Douglass, a Harvard University big shot – he’s chairman of the department of Oral Health Policy and Epidimiology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and he’s at the center of a fluoride debate: the question of whether fluoride in drinking water can cause cancer. Specifically, osteosarcoma in boys.
[Scene of Douglass walking to his car with envelope in his hand.]
REPORTER: Hi Dr. Douglass, Mike Beaudet with Fox 25. We wanted to talk to you about the fluoride controversy.
DOUGLASS: I just was talking to the lawyers about the Freedom of Information, so we’re going to give all our studies to them.
REPORTER: Dr. Douglass spoke publicly about the controversy for the first time to Fox Undercover. Is there a cover-up here?
DOUGLASS: This report [showing envelope] from Harvard Medical School will answer that question.
REPORTER: The dispute erupted last year when the Washington-based Environmental Working Group raised serious allegations, accusing Dr. Douglass of possibly covering up the link between fluoridated water and cancer.
KEN COOK: The question is very simple. Did he represent the research correctly or did he not.
REPORTER: Ken Cook is Environmental Working Group’s president. He points to a thesis done by one of Dr. Douglass’ own students. Dr. Elise Bassin found ” …for males less than 20 years old, fluoride level in drinking water during growth is associated with an increased risk of osteosarcoma…” But according to Cook, Dr. Douglass dismissed any link when he presented this report to the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences.
COOK: Dr. Bassin’s study found some very compelling evidence that there’s a risk of bone cancer from fluoridation in water. And the presentation of her research suggested the opposite – that there was no evidence.
REPORTER: The Environmental Working Group has raised concerns about Dr. Douglass’s close ties to toothpaste giant Colgate, pointing to his job as Editor-in-Chief of the Colgate Oral Care Report. Fox Undercover has learned Dr. Douglass has also worked as a consultant for Colgate for the last ten years. The company has paid him tens of thousands of dollars.
REPORTER: Do you suspect that Dr. Douglass is trying to protect the toothpaste industry.
COOK: Obviously, if he’s got a financial interest working at least in part for a company that is making fluoridated toothpaste, one would be concerned, one would be aware of that potential conflict of interest.
REPORTER: Dr. Douglass insists that he’s done nothing wrong. “You’ve got to admit, working for Colgate, it smells a little fishy.”
DOUGLASS: I don’t, I don’t think so. I looked at, I looked at the 200 articles that we’ve written for them, only 12, only about 11 or 12 of them were on fluoride.
REPORTER: You wouldn’t cover up something because you have a financial interest in Colgate?
DOUGLASS: No. There was never a chance to cover up anything. This report will speak directly to the issue of whether there’s any evidence of trying to cover something up.
REPORTER: That report is from Harvard Medical School which is investigating the controversy. Dr. Douglass says the report is still in draft form and would not show it to us.
As for Dr. Bassin’s thesis which showed a link between fluoridated water and cancer in boys.
DOUGLASS: She did a good job. She had a good group of people advising her and it’s a nice analysis. There’s nothing wrong with that analysis. The question is, it’s a subgroup. Is it true when you look at the whole study? That’s the question.
REPORTER: Not for the Environmental Working Group which says the subgroup of young men should be looked at closely since they’re more likely to develop this type of cancer.
REPORTER: So why weren’t Dr. Bassin’s findings included in that Final Report from Dr. Douglass to the government?
DOUGLASS: They got a final report. The truth is, it wasn’t the final report. I mean, if you want to get your facts correct, that wasn’t the real final report. It was a draft.
REPORTER: Do you think there is a link between fluoride and bone cancer?
DOUGLASS: In the whole study, my best guess is I don’t think we’re going to see an association.
TONY VALLENTINE: It seems like somebody was trying to cover up or alter the findings or keep it quiet.
REPORTER: Tony Vallentine is watching the controversy closely. It’s personal. His son Seth died 20 years ago after a painful battle with osteosarcoma.
VALLENTINE: This is a picture of Seth and his younger brother Zachary just before we found out that he had the bone cancer. He was as healthy as any normal American kid.
REPORTER: Seth grew up in Dedham, 1 of 137 communities in Massachusetts that adds fluoride to the water. Vallentine says he wants to know more about any connection between fluoridated water and cancer.
What do you think about this possible link?
VALLENTINE: When I first heard that I was, I was kind of shocked because I knew that we used the Dedham water and I knew there was fluoride in it.
REPORTER: Vallentine says that even the suggestion of a link is disturbing.
VALLENTINE: I don’t think one kid’s life is worth having a mouth full of pearly white teeth.
REPORTER: Dr. Bassin declined to be interviewed, but she’s standing by her work and tells FOX Undercover a paper based on her thesis will soon be published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control.
Dr. Douglass says his full study on the possible link between fluoridated water and cancer should come out later this year. A Harvard spokesman tells us its investigation is ongoing, but added the University does not believe there is any conflict with Dr. Douglass working for Colgate. This as the Federal Government begins its own investigation.
I’m Mike Beaudet for FOX Undercover