Thursday, June 07, 2001 – COLORADO SPRINGS – Lisa McLaughlin was reading the newspaper a few months ago when she saw a small notice about the city’s intent to add fluoride to the water in northern and eastern Colorado Springs to prevent tooth decay.
McLaughlin, a former high school teacher who is now a stay-at-home mother, was intrigued and decided to do a little research on the topic. It wasn’t long before she became alarmed by what she learned about hydrofluosilicic acid – the type of fluoride most commonly used in this country. It is harvested from smokestack scrubbers at plants that produce phosphate fertilizer, she said, and it contains traces of mercury, lead and arsenic.
“I was horrified to learn that there is not a single safety study on this chemical,” she said. “I’m just a mom … and I don’t want my kids to drink anything for which there is not public safety testing.”
So she went to work galvanizing opposition by distributing leaflets, appearing on radio talk shows and forming a group called “It’s Not Fluoride Only.” Although the city had already spent $1.3 million preparing the fluoridation project, it postponed the plan in April, and it may be derailed entirely.
Fluoride opponents showed up in force for the water board’s final public hearing on the subject Tuesday night. Protesters filled the meeting room to capacity and then waited nearly two hours for the topic to come up on the agenda.
When it finally did, people silently held up homemade, neon-colored posters bearing the slogans “Don’t Poison my Water!!!”, “Test a rat before a child,” and “Cancer or Cavity? Duh!”
McLaughlin arranged for three experts to speak against fluoridation by teleconference, and the board was given a petition signed by 270 opponents.
Roger Masters, a professor at Dartmouth University, said he conducted a large-scale study and concluded that children were twice as likely to have elevated lead levels in their blood if they lived in an area where hydrofluosilicic acid was added to the water.
Hardy Limeback, head of preventive dentistry for the University of Toronto, told the board that he was an advocate of fluoridation until a few years ago, when he learned that it is toxic waste.
The board also heard from a senior scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency, William Hirzy, who stressed that he was not speaking on behalf of the EPA but for a union that represents EPA employees.
Hirzy said the insertion of hydrofluosilicic acid into the nation’s drinking water is nothing short of a national catastrophe because it has an adverse effect on brain structure and kidneys.
“It’s a way to manage hazardous and corrosive waste by putting it in the nation’s drinking water,” he said.
Five people, primarily physicians and dentists, spoke in favor of fluoridation and questioned the credentials of the experts who spoke via teleconference. They said the chemical is safe because it breaks down when combined with water.
Orthodontist Bill Shaner, “speaking for his patients and his grandchildren,” said he has seen an alarming increase in tooth decay in Colorado Springs in the past three to four years, and he attributed that to the low levels of fluoride in some parts of the city.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “extensive research conducted over the past 50 years has repeatedly shown that fluoridation of public water is a safe and effective way to reduce the incidence of tooth decay.”
The majority of the 15 citizens who spoke against fluoridation were skeptical of the government’s plan to help them.
One man told the board, “I’m the guy you’re trying to help. I really don’t want your help.” Another citizen, Pat Hawk, said that if the plan passes, he intends to get his children’s blood lead levels tested, and if the levels go up after the fluoride arrives, he will sue the city.
McLaughlin said she wants to keep the debate from becoming inflammatory, saying her group simply wants more studies.
The debate is tinged with irony, because it was a Colorado Springs dentist who discovered fluoride’s ability to prevent tooth decay.
About 62 percent of people in the U.S. live in areas where the water is fluoridated. Fluoride is found naturally in almost all water at varying levels; one-third of Colorado Springs receives water with enough natural fluoride that it does not need additional fluoride.
According to the state health department, 82 water treatment plants in Colorado add fluoride to the water and send it to cities, including Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder and Glenwood Springs. Fort Collins officials are considering stopping the practice because questions have been raised there, too.
The water board, which is made up of City Council members, will decide whether to proceed with fluoridation within a couple of months.