At the Portsmouth City Council meeting of Nov. 8, the council was asked to consider a letter regarding concerns with the safety of water fluoridation, which has been taking place in Portsmouth since 1973. A number of residents spoke both in support and in opposition to water fluoridation. All those speaking in favor of fluoridation were individuals with professional experience relative to fluoridation, while none of those opposed to fluoridation presented any related scientific expertise. After listening to the presentations, the council voted, 8-1, to file the letter without taking further action.
Since that meeting, the council has received substantial pressure to reconsider and reverse their earlier vote. The Portsmouth Herald ran two separate pieces highly critical of the council’s decision. However, during the intervening 10 days, there has been no new specific scientific information presented in either of those pieces that would warrant a change of course by the council. There was mention of “a growing number of well designed studies showing adverse effects of ingested fluoride” without any information provided about the source of those studies. The author failed to mention that the fluoride chemicals used are among dozens of chemicals used to treat our water supply and they all meet quality standards established by the American Water Works Association and the National Sanitation Foundation and that our water must comply with the EPA Safe Drinking Water Act. The author also failed to mention that over 14,000 communities in the United States with over 160 million people fluoridate their water in addition to the 317 million people in 39 countries worldwide. However, there was one bit of new information contained in the story by Mr. McMahon on Nov. 14. He interviewed Dr. Bill Kohn, the director of the Division of Oral Health for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He stated, “Having reviewed so-called safety issues of fluoride over the years, the CDC continues to find no related adverse issues.” This up-to-date assessment comes from the world’s premier public health agency.
In effect, the council is being pushed to first disregard the information given them at the first meeting, which resulted in their 8-1 vote, and change their vote in the absence of any new compelling information and despite the comments from the CDC. Further the council is being asked to reject 65 years of ongoing, reputable science from agencies such as the CDC, Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Cancer Institute (NCI), Public Health Service (PHS), National Academy of Science (NAS), the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other governmental and non-governmental institutions in the US and abroad.
Science conducted using the scientific method, is a rigorous dynamic process, always evolving in an attempt to arrive at the best possible and reliable information. It involves conducting complex studies by scientists in the field being researched that meet the high standards to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. These studies in turn lead to other studies that attempt to replicate those findings.
At times, new science replaces previous assumptions as new studies are conducted and new information gathered. This process has been taking place with regard to fluoridation for 65 years. In fact, fluoridation is the most studied public health intervention in history, with over 3,500 studies completed since 1970 alone. Happily, the ongoing credible scientific studies continue to strongly support the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation. It is the strength and long-term consistency of this science that should be used to guide public policy. It is doubtful that the city of Portsmouth has the necessary capacity and expertise to do this type of complex analysis. It is this science that has led the CDC to state that water fluoridation is one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century and that water fluoridation remains the single most important thing a community can do to improve the oral health of its citizens.