Fluoride Action Network

Is There Still a Good Case for Water Fluoridation?

Source: The Atlantic | March 17th, 2020 | By Charles C. Mann
Note from the Fluoride Action Network,
The author did a lot of homework for this article, but noticeably absent was any interview with individuals or groups opposed to fluoridation. Instead, fluoridation opponents are presented as reasonless and offensive. (EC)

Excerpts from original article

… In the 1930s, McKay and others identified the staining agent: naturally occurring fluoride compounds in water supplies. (This kind of staining, along with the other negative effects of fluorine absorption by bones and ligaments, is now called fluorosis.) The researchers also discovered something else: Although the staining looked terrible, people with fluoride stains had fewer decayed and missing teeth. A small group of dentists began agitating to add low levels of fluoride to drinking water—low enough to avoid staining and also low enough to be safe.

Those dentists would soon get corporate reinforcement. Fluorine, a chemical element, is lethal in small doses and extremely reactive. Fluorides—compounds of fluorine—can be nearly as toxic but are much more stable. They are a common waste product of the fertilizer, pesticide, refrigeration, glass, steel, and aluminum industries. In the ’30s, many of these industries were facing protests and lawsuits for poisoning workers, polluting the soil, and contaminating water supplies. Understandably, executives were thrilled to discover that the chemicals they had to get rid of because they could seep into city water systems might be gotten rid of by being jettisoned into city water systems. Less understandably, some later anti-fluoridation activists described the corporate embrace of fluoridation as evidence of a Communist plot.It was more like a capitalist plot. From 1921 to 1932, the secretary of the Treasury was Andrew W. Mellon, a founder of the Aluminum Company of America, better known as Alcoa. The U.S. Public Health Service was then under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department. In January 1931, Alcoa chemists discovered high levels of fluoride in the water in and around Bauxite, Arkansas, an Alcoa company town. By May, at Mellon’s urging, a Public Health Service dentist had been assigned to examine the link between fluoride and reduced cavities. Eight years later, a biochemist at the Mellon Institute, in Pittsburgh, became the first researcher to call for the widespread fluoridation of water….Additional impetus came during the Second World War. The Manhattan Project—the crash effort to develop the atomic bomb—processed uranium by combining it with huge amounts of fluorine to form uranium hexafluoride. Large quantities of other fluoride compounds, including the DuPont refrigerant Freon, were needed. Accidents exposed employees to these little-understood substances, killing some and sickening others. Fearing litigation, the Manhattan Project created a “medical section” to study fluorides. Together with industry, it pushed for clinical trials of fluoride’s effects. Under the guise of protecting teeth, the Manhattan Project set about obtaining data on long-term fluoride exposure.

Starting in 1945, tests were conducted in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Newburgh, New York. Both cities added fluoride to their water. In both cases, the control was a nearby city that did not add fluoride. The experiments were supposed to continue for at least a decade, with dentists in each city examining their patients to evaluate long-term effects. As it happened, one of the control cities fluoridated its water within seven years because its citizens had heard rumors about the benefits…

The opposition mostly failed. At an annual cost of about $325 million, more than 70 percent of Americans now have fluoridated water. Still more Americans get fluoride from soft drinks, most of which are made with fluoridated water. Some bottled water is fluoridated too. In 2007, Grand Rapids, celebrating its historic role, erected a 33-foot-high powder-blue sculptural monument to fluoridation.