Every day, Irish sanitary authorities add hexafluorosilicic acid to public water supplies under the terms of the 1960 Fluoridation Act. Unlike the naturally occurring, poorly absorbed and therefore safer calcium fluoride found in toothpaste and mouthwash, hexafluorosilicic acid is an industrial waste by-product which is an active and highly absorbed molecule when swallowed. Over a lifetime of drinking small quantities of this fluoride, substantial amounts accumulate in the body, especially in hard tissue such as teeth and bone.

Children drink far more liquid in proportion to body weight than adults and are particularly vulnerable to toxic effects. Even the American Dental Association admits that fluoride can be harmful to babies, and officially recommends that infant formula should not be made from fluoridated tap water.

In the last 20 years, dental fluorosis has increased dramatically and now affects one third of Irish teenagers. Fluorosis is white streaking or brown staining of teeth. The more serious forms involve chipping and pitting of tooth enamel and affects two children in every second-level classroom today. But in Northern Ireland, where fluoridation was popularly rejected, serious fluorosis is non-existent.

Irish proponents of water fluoridation admit that there has been a significant increase in dental fluorosis but discount it as merely cosmetic and not an adverse health effect. A young person whose teeth are permanently marred might not agree.

Nor will doctors agree, because fluorosis is an important indicator that a toxic level of fluoride has accumulated in the body. If fluoride is damaging the teeth it is probably damaging bones and other tissue as well.

The campaign to stop fluoridation of drinking water is as old as I am. I remember as a young teenager hearing dire warnings about the health effects of ingesting fluoride, as doctors opposed to fluoridation debated with dentists who espoused it. Though the initial heat has dissipated from the campaign, it has never gone away and it is notable that doctors in Ireland today are not prepared to defend fluoridation.

But the debate is again heating up as long-term research is now showing the toll fluoride has taken on public health. For example, an American study of hip fractures in elderly citizens reveals that they are twice as common in a city which has had a fluoridated water supply for several decades than in a similar city that has never been fluoridated.

Many now are asking how an industrial-waste substance such as hexafluorosilicic acid can be added to drinking water, especially since it is listed as hazardous waste under the EU’s 1991 Waste Directive. Although Irish and British campaigners have appealed over the years to the European Commission to stop fluoridation, the commission has declined to become involved, possibly because fluoridation was rejected by continental Europe many years ago and is confined to Ireland and a few water companies in England.

The Irish policy of contaminating its water supplies is not just bad public health policy but in contravention of EU environmental and public health directives. For example, putting a hazardous waste into drinking water is contrary to the Drinking Water Directive and indeed to the Water Framework Directive. Disposing of a hazardous waste into water without a licence is contrary to the Waste Directive. Medicating with a substance that is unauthorised and unlicensed as a medicine contravenes the Medicines Directive.

I have now brought the issue to the various sections of the European Commission responsible for water, food and public health. I brought a number of medical experts to a series of meetings with the Directorate General for Health and Consumer Affairs (DG Sanco) to discuss how fluoridation directly transgresses EU health legislation.

As a result, the commission has initiated a thorough reassessment, which should be completed soon. One of the experts — Vyvyan Howard, a foetal and infant pathologist from the University of Ulster — was particularly instrumental in alerting the commission to fluoride’s health risks both before and after birth, especially in lowering IQ.

We have lived with water fluoridation for far too long. It costs millions of euros to fluoridate our water supplies every year. Cutting out water fluoridation would save money. It’s a spending cut that I am confident the majority of Irish people would welcome.