Opponents criticized a plan to fluoridate New Jersey drinking water yesterday, calling it dangerous and unnecessary, while supporters said the state must move to protect the dental health of children.
Both sides aired their views at a hearing before the Public Health Council, a state body considering regulations to mandate the fluoridation of community water supplies. The council expects to vote in September or October and has the power to regulate public health measures.
Environmentalists, some scientists and activists — including one carrying her 5-month-old baby — spoke harshly against fluoride, claiming the additive does not reduce cavities and has been linked to thyroid disease and bone cancer in young males. They said fluorosilicic acid, the additive generally used to fluoridate water supplies, is not purified and contains traces of both lead and arsenic, a carcinogen. The ingredient is a byproduct of fertilizer production.
“This is a stupid idea from the ’60s when we also thought it was okay to spray DDT around our neighborhoods to kill mosquitoes,” Jeff Tittle, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said at the hearing in Ewing Township.
One scientist, Richard P. Maas of the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, described his new research, not yet published. He said that fluorosilicic acid, when combined with the disinfectant chloramine, creates a “strong chemical synergy” that increases the dissolution of lead in pipes. Chloramine is used by water suppliers. Maas said the institute’s tests found that water with both chemicals had three to 10 times the levels of lead as other water.
Maas said his institute, a leading research center on drinking water and lead, does not take a position on water fluoridation.
The hearing became emotional at times, with one speaker comparing water fluoridation to the actions of a Nazi state and others pleading with the council to keep fluoride out of New Jersey’s water.
“I shouldn’t have to buy a water purification system or bottled water. This is an unfair financial burden to find a way to drink safe water,” said Cynthia Katz of Cherry Hill, who carried her 5-month-old daughter with her to the podium.
Just 15 percent of the state’s population drinks fluoridated water, one of the lowest rates in the nation. The New Jersey Dental Association said children with the least access to good dental care will benefit the most from fluoridated water, which it said reduces cavities. The dental association petitioned the council to consider the fluoride issue and yesterday the association’s president, Frank J. Graham, a Teaneck orthodontist, said he has heard nothing to sway him.
“We have 60 years of experience with fluoride and 60 years of studies that show us fluoride is safe and effective,” he said. “Water fluoridation is the least expensive and most effective method to reduce dentalcaries (tooth decay),” he said. He said he is not concerned about the new lead research because lead levels in water are routinely monitored.
About 60 people attended the hearing. Patrick Hanson of Milltown, a former health officer, said years ago he encouraged water suppliers in the Princeton area to fluoridate the water. “To me, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. He said cavities in children declined after fluoridation.
Some water suppliers, though, came out against the mandate. The New Jersey Water Association opposes putting any substance into water that is not necessary to make it pure and safe, said executive director Rick Howlett. The New Jersey section of the American Water Works Association supports fluoridation, but opposes state mandates that override local decisions, according to chair John A. Hroncich.
A display outside the hearing room showed the many ways people now ingest fluoride, according to activists who said people are getting too much fluoride. The display included toothpaste and mouthwash as well as drinks made in areas with fluoridated water.
Members of the council said they plan to sift through reams of papers. Council chairman Robert Pallay, a medical doctor, said that some anti-fluoride research has “been promulgated by people who do not like the idea of fluoride in the water.” He said he was skeptical of some of the anti-fluoride research but has not made a decision on how he will vote.
Carol Ann Campbell covers medicine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 392-4148.