When it comes to water quality, the people of Juneau are among the most informed in the state. In October, capital city residents voted to ban fluoride from their water supply.

Clean-water voters succeeded (61 percent to 37 percent) despite the American Dental Association spending $164,000 to promote the mass-medication scheme. The group advocating to keep Juneau fluoride-free spent less than $5,000.

The lopsided total shows that 50 years of government safety assurances cannot hold back the tide of new science on fluoride.

Prior to the vote, Juneau residents gained these facts: most of the fluoride in domestic water begins as waste scraped from exhaust stacks of fertilizer and aluminum factories; most European countries ban fluoride; the substance is linked to a host of diseases, including thyroid and endocrine dysfunction, kidney disease, increased risk of bone fracture, and osteosarcoma in boys.

There is also data that indicates it plays a role in dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Juneau relied on additional information before saying no to fluoride. In 2006, the ADA issued a directive urging mothers to avoid fluoridated tap water when preparing infant formula. In non-fluoridated communities, the level of fluoride in mothers milk is 0.004 parts per million. This means babies fed formula made with fluoridated tap water (at 1 ppm) get 250 times more fluoride than a breast-fed baby.

A baby’s blood brain barrier is not complete at birth, adding fluoride to its system interferes with brain development. It is not a nutrient. Nobel Laureate Arvid Carlsson cited infant health when he opposed fluoridation in Sweden more than 30 years ago.

Official fluoride policy is paradoxical at best. Toothpaste containing the chemical carries a poison warning while the U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control call fluoride a major health achievement and promote its adoption. And yet at the same time, the CDC acknowledges that whatever small benefit fluoride might offer teeth, it happens only when it’s applied directly to the enamel. The agency says that drinking fluoride-laced water is at best a waste; fluoride’s desired effects are from topical applications, not systemic.

One of the implications of such schizophrenic policy is that lawyers who see further down the road than most are anticipating liability claims against the inevitable collapse of fluoride’s legitimacy.

Recent Chinese studies demonstrate that fluoride in drinking water lowers IQ in children. And because it’s so corrosive, it leaches lead from pipes and solder joints, adding another neurotoxin to the body’s burden.

While some dentists recommend fluoride, proponents lack a science-based rationale for their claims. Meanwhile, recent studies show little difference in dental decay rates between fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.

Fluoride was first used as a rat poison in Germany in the 1920s. In Nazi and Soviet-era prison camps, fluoride was added to water because it was known to produce confusion and apathy. Today, Europe’s major countries ban it from public water, as does India and Japan. In this country, about 66 percent of municipal supplies receive fluoride.

Fisheries biologists found that at dams on the Columbia River salmon exposed to fluoride from industrial outfalls became lethargic and confused. They failed to climb fish ladders, spending up to a week in collection basins, where injuries and death increased. When fluoride sources were reduced, salmon moved past the dam without delay.

In Fairbanks, the water utility annually dumps about 7,300 pounds of fluoride into the water system. (This includes The Fill, a popular water source in west Fairbanks.) After passing through the sewer plant, more than 99 percent of it is flushed into the Tanana River.

In an era when sustainability is being touted as the new way to address energy and pollution challenges, Fairbanks water policy must reflect scientific findings. Fluoride’s deficits are profound. Its effects on intelligence and health limit our ability to develop and sustain the gifts this life provides.

Following Juneau’s leadership, it’s time for Fairbanks to exercise its option for clean water. The point of leverage is the Fairbanks City Council; the target is a single line in the city’s code book. In days gone by Fairbanks could count on a local environmental organization to lead the way. Not this time, however. The Northern Alaska Environmental Center has decided to ignore the science on fluoride’s threats, leaving others to defend the water.

A committee is forming to present the case to the community. Contact me at dayates@mosquitonet.com to share your ideas and learn more.

To get acquainted with fluoride science, see these resources:




Douglas Yates is a writer from Ester whose interests include water quality.