Struggling to balance the budget, 2 years ago, the Brooksville, Florida, City Council voted unanimously to stop fluoridation to ease the tax burden on their 8,000 residents. Under siege from misguided and misinformed activists headed by dentist Johnny Johnson and the Tampa Bay Times, the council reversed its decision, reports the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).
Heady after their lobbying efforts ousted two Pinellas County Commissioners who voted to end fluoridation, by cultivating two pro-fluoride candidates who voted to restore fluoridation immediately after the election, Johnson and the Times brought their act to Brooksville. They produced information that was wrong, inflammatory and subjective.
Johnson said that a Harvard Dental School study by Dr. Elise Bassin, showing significantly higher rates of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in boys drinking fluoridated water, had been completely “refuted” by a follow-up study (Kim 2011) from the Harvard team. Johnson stated that it was a complete “waste of time” for the council to consider Bassin’s study.
Bassin’s study was never refuted. The follow-up analysis made no attempt to replicate Bassin’s age-specific methodology upon which her conclusions were based. Bassin found a link between fluoride and osteosarcoma in boys exposed to fluoridated water during a very specific period of bone development (i.e., between the 6th and 8th year of life). The authors of the follow-up study, however, focused solely on the “total accumulated dose” over the study participants’ entire lifetime, which the authors acknowledge is an unreliable method if the “risk is related to exposures at a specific time in life.”
Paul Connett, PhD, FAN’s Executive Director, who explained Bassin’s findings to the council, says: “What I find reprehensible about Johnny Johnson’s activities is that, while he never hesitated to insult me (and others opposed to fluoridation), he refused to meet me in open public debate. As is often the case we find that when bullies are confronted, they turn out to be cowards.”
The Times characterized Dr. Connett and others opposed to fluoridation as “antifluoride zealots and tea party conservatives,” and have refused to print anything by Connett in his defense.
Connett, who was honored this month for his human rights work in Bangladesh, is a well-respected figure in the environmental health community. His two science-based books, one on waste management and one on fluoridation (The Case against Fluoride) are tributes to his scientific expertise and integrity. Connett’s work has also been published in peer-reviewed journals.
Did One Powerful Media Man with a Mission cause the Florida Fluoridation Reversals?
Paul Tash, Chairman and CEO of the Tampa Bay Times and member of the Florida Council of 100, a group of business leaders,** pounded his editorial writers to produce pro-fluoridation articles concerning the Pinellas fluoridation battle which garnered them a Pulitzer Prize. It probably didn’t hurt that Tash is also Chairman of the Pulitzer Prize Board.
The Times reported that Tim Nickens, one of the editorial writers, “credited Tash with pushing the board to keep pressing the fluoride issue. ‘It was Paul’s initial outrage that said we had to get on this fluoride and get this back in the water for the people of Pinellas County,’ Nickens added. ‘When we would finally write something about it last year…he would say ‘That’s great. Now what’s next?’…It’s old style motivation.'”
Objective journalism wasn’t their goal. “The Tampa Bay Times editorial board went on mission to correct this travesty” [of stopping fluoridation in Pinellas County, Florida].
Only Mayor Bradburn stuck to her convictions to reject fluoridation in Brooksville. Few, if any, local residents engaged in the discussion and 3 local dentists who opposed fluoridation feared publicly stating their position would hurt them.
“We suspect fear of political retribution or personal character assassination forced the reversal vote,” says Connett. “We need more brave legislators like Mayor Bradburn. But, instead of praising her for a good fiscal decision to cut an unnecessary program to save money for her aging constituents, the Tampa Bay Times vilified her.”