Nothing brings together the tree-hugging left and the gun-toting right like fluoride. On the night of April 21, on UL’s campus in Hamilton Hall, a crowd of 100 local residents gathered to hear about the prospect of adding fluoride to the public water supply. UL renewable resources professor Griff Blakewood was in the crowd as was AOC show Freedom Forum host Tom Parker. The keynote speaker was Dr. Paul Connett, a retired chemistry professor from St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., who now heads up the Fluoride Action Network and runs the Web site www.FluorideAlert.org. In his introduction of Connett, Blakewood described fluoride as “essentially an industrial waste product.”
Before arriving at the meeting, Connett had just spoken before a Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting against fluoridating the local water supply. Back at the university, the tall man with the British accent, dressed in a blue shirt and yellow tie with a navy blue blazer, spent two hours running through a dizzying PowerPoint presentation. He was adamant about his subject matter and quite animated in his delivery. Connett contends there’s no evidence to prove that adding fluoride to the public water supply is protecting people’s teeth and that more research must be done before accepting it.
Those against fluoridation point to dental fluorosis as an example of why we shouldn’t ingest fluoride. The condition affects kids primarily between the ages of 1 and 4 and is the result of too much fluoride. In its mild form, fluorosis is the condition of white streaks and spots on the teeth. The severest cases exhibit dark stains as well as the cracking and pitting of teeth.
And ultimately, Connett adds, the government has no right to mass-medicate citizens, especially when there is no margin of safety to protect the public. In other words, the government may be able to regulate the amount of fluoride in the water supply but not how much of it people consume. And it’s unethical for governments to use public water supplies to force medicine on individuals “without informed consent.”
From the podium, Connett says local and state dental associations were invited to present the argument for fluoridating Lafayette’s water supply but no one accepted the invitation. He adds that fluoridation has become a “belief system” supported by “junk science” upheld by doctors, dentists and public officials. “They promote fluoridation like parrots,” he says, “and they defend it like chickens.” The crowd has a good laugh.
Last year, Louisiana’s Act 761 became law, requiring public water systems with 5,000 customers or more to fluoridate their water. But no system will be forced to comply unless the state can identify the source of funding for it. There’s also a provision in the law that would allows systems that haven’t fluoridated their water in the past to opt out of the mandate. It requires 15 percent of registered voters signing a petition against it and then allowing residents to vote on the exemption.
On April 21, the same night as Connett’s lecture, the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted on a local ordinance that urges the Acadiana legislative delegation to seek a repeal of the law. The Advocate reported that the council steered clear of discussing the pros and cons of fluoridation and instead focused on the cost, which Lafayette Utilities System estimates at $530,000 a year. Councilman William Theriot stated that what was being left out of the conversation were the words “accountability” and “responsibility” and that responsible parties would end up paying for those who were not taking responsibility for their own dental health.
Communities in the U.S. began fluoridating their water supplies in 1945. In Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper attacks the Soviet Union to derail a Communist conspiracy to inundate Americans with fluoridated water: “I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.” At another point in the film, Ripper reminds us: “A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.”
Kubrick was taking a dig at the John Birch Society, which was opposed to fluoridation. The conservative group believed that fluoridation was a Communist ploy to medicate the public and that it violated individual rights. But nowadays, it’s not just the right wing that’s deeply concerned with our precious bodily fluids. Even consumer advocate/environmentalist Ralph Nader has made a public stand against it, arguing that there are better and more effective ways to address tooth decay in children without exposing the entire public to fluoridation.
Proponents of fluoridation argue that it’s necessary in order to reduce dental decay in the public, particularly children. The American Dental Association estimates that two-thirds of the U.S. population uses public water systems that are fluoridated, and that for every $1 invested, it saves a community $38 in dental treatment costs. Since 1950, the ADA has “unreservedly” endorsed the fluoridating of community water supplies “as safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay.”
In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control stated that when used appropriately, fluoride is both safe and effective in preventing and controlling tooth decay. The CDC stated that water fluoridation was one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century, along with vaccinations, controlling infectious diseases, the decline in heart diseases and strokes, family planning, and recognizing tobacco as a health hazard. According to the CDC, Lafayette Utilities System “purchases its water from a water system with a natural fluoride concentration below the level considered optimal for the prevention of dental (cavities).”
The World Health Organization estimates that in industrialized nations tooth decay still affects 60 to 90 percent of children. WHO concludes that fluoridation “has substantial advantages in public health.” The American Medical Association also supports fluoridating water supplies.
So if national and international health organizations are advocating fluoridation and assuring us it’s safe for our consumption, then how could opponents argue against it? And who, in their opinion, is pushing for its use if it has such dangerous effects? After his presentation, Connett takes questions from the audience and one man refers to the phosphate fertilizer industry, where hydrofluorosilicic acid is a waste byproduct and also the primary fluoride chemical for water fluoridation.
“Follow the money,” Connett adds. “It’s a lousy way to get rid of hazardous waste.”