According to the Fluoride Action Network, 145 communities have rejected water fluoridation since 2010. The growing number of cities and towns questioning the safety and economic efficiency of water fluoridation has been been sparked by community activism efforts around the world. These efforts have come as a response to a variety of studies looking at possible health dangers.
A recent study published in the Journal of Analytical Chemistry indicates that fluoride ions found in fluoridated water and toothpaste may lead to an increase in Urinary Stone Disease (USD). The study was conducted by chemists from Russia and Australia, led by Pavel Nesterenko at the University of Tasmania. The team studied 20 urinary stones from patients at a Russian hospital and discovered fluoride ions in 80% of the stones. This could be due to high levels of fluoride in patients urine, possibly from drinking water containing fluorides and ingesting fluoride toothpaste.
Another study published in the journal General Dentistry warns that infants are at risk of dental fluorosis due to overexposure from fluoride in commercially available infant foods. The researchers analyzed 360 different samples of 20 different foods ranging from fruits and vegetables, chicken, turkey, beef, and vegetarian dinners. All of the foods tested had detectable amounts of fluoride ranging from .007-4.13 micrograms of fluoride per gram of food. Chicken products had the highest concentrations of fluoride, followed by turkey. The New York State Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation (NYSCOF) reports that the fluoride levels were due to pesticides, fertilizers, soil, groundwater, and/or fluoridated water. The high levels found in the chicken and turkey can be attributed to “fluoride-saturated bone dust” involved in the process of mechanically separating the meat.
Although these studies hint at various problems governmental and health organizations continue to recommend fluoride, also known as hydrofluorosilicic acid. Earlier this year American Dental Association issued new guidelines recommending “a smear” of fluoride toothpaste for children 3 and under and a “pea-sized dab” for those aged 3 to 6.
What is Fluoride?
The substances added to municipal water supplies known by the name fluoride are actually a combination of unpurified by products of phosphate mining, namely hydrofluorosilicic acid, sodium fluorosilicate, and sodium fluoride. In the United States thousands of tons of fluorosilicic acid is recovered from phosphoric acid plants and then used for water fluoridation. During this process the fluoride ion is created.
This process of taking waste from the phosphate industry and putting it into drinking water has long been criticized for it’s effects on human health, and that of the environment. It is well known that water fluoridation has led to dental fluorosis for millions of children. This discoloring of the teeth was called “cosmetically objectionable” by the Centers for Disease Control. Beyond the cosmetic effect there have been a number of studies indicating health issues ranging from arthritis, brain problems, reduced thyroid or overactive thyroid, kidney problems and bone cancers.
While proponents of water fluoridation have long pointed to an apparent drop in tooth decay in fluoridated nations as proof of it’s validity, those claims have been proven wrong by the World Health Organization. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stated the fluoride in the water is directly related to better teeth quality however, the WHO released it’s own study showing that tooth decay rates have dropped in all western nations, whether fluoridated or not.
The reasons for opposing water fluoridation include: fear of a variety of health concerns; the belief that it is force medicating the population without their approval; financial waste; and environmental concerns related to phosphate mines where the chemical is found. The resistance to the practice is scattered across the United States, however, Texas seems to be a hotbed for clean water activism.
In West Central Texas, in the city of Abilene, a new movement to end water fluoridation has emerged. Abilenians Against Fluoridated Water is the third wave of community activism aimed at ending the practice. The group recently received fairly balanced coverage by local NBC affiliate KBRC. They hope to push the issue to a vote for a third time in 50 years. Abilene only began fluoridating its municipal water supply in 2000 after a community effort suffered defeat. In 1964 Abilene voters came to the polls in records numbers to ban the chemical with a vote of 10,111 to 7,975. The voter turnout was actually a record that stands to this day.
Dallas made headlines around the internet in the Spring of 2014 when numerous news outlets mistakenly reported the city had voted to end water fluoridation. While that is not accurate, Activists For Truth have been doing a great job lobbying City Council and raising awareness on the issue. Regina Imburgia represents AFT and Fluoride Action North Texas. Imburgia commended the support of Council members Sheffie Kadane, Jennifer Staubach Gates, and Scott Griggs for supporting their efforts. Kadane stated that his concerns are based on trying to save the city $1 million a year.
College Station, Texas is the home of Texas A & M University and also holds the distinction of being the largest Texas city to have rejected water fluoridation. In 2011 six out of seven members of city council voted to end the 22 year practice. The council members said they wanted to save the $42,000 elsewhere and believed there were other adequate sources of fluoride available.
Houston, the largest city in Texas, and fourth largest in the United States, also has a growing movement against Fluoride. In 2012 a group of activists (full disclosure: including the author of this article) formed Fluoride Free Houston to bring together concerned activists and citizens seeking to stop the city from adding the chemical to the water supply. FFH began meeting in the Summer of 2012 and immediately received support from Houston city council members Helena Brown and Jack Christie. Despite receiving support from council members and media reports, Fluoride Free Houston has been opposed by Mayor Annise Parker. When asked whether she was ready to rethink fluoride the Mayor denied there were any reason for concern.
Fluoride Free Houston has plans to begin meeting again in August to formulate a strategy for meeting with new council members. If a vote on water fluoridation cannot be reached the long-term goal is to encourage city council to vote “No” on extending their contract with Mosaic Co. in January 2016.
East of Houston the city of Beaumont may succeed in removing fluoride for completely different reasons. In May Beaumont city water utilities director Hani Tohme spoke to city council members about how the addition of fluoride to the water supply is corroding the city’s pipes. Council member Michael Gertz supported the idea, stating that many constituents worry about the dangers of fluoride. Council member and dentist Dr. Allan Coleman said the chemical additive was proven safe by the work of the Texas Dental Association.
Central Texas is ripe with activism and the desire for clean water is strong in San Marcos, home of Texas State University. The Communities for Thriving Water Fluoride-Free San Marcos coalition has worked for months to raise awareness in the city and on campus. Kathleen O’Connell helped gather 1,102 signatures to force the issue on the July 1st agenda for City Council. The board ultimately decided to continue fluoridating the city water supply for at least another 8 months with the possibility of studying the safety of fluoride in the future. In April the Texas State Student Government passed a resolution declaring that the campus will not continue to fluoridate as part of the City of San Marcos’ water program. This makes Texas State the second university in the state to forgo water fluoridation.
In 2012 the Student Government of the University of Texas in Austin approved a resolution that would retrofit at least two water fountains with reverse osmosis filters so students can have a source of fluoride-free water on campus.
Austin is also home to its own Fluoride Free Group. On May 31st a number of Fluoride Free supporters spoke at a special citizens forum. Throughout June the group continued to attend the Austin City council meetings to inform the members of the history of fluoridation in Austin and why they should reconsider. The group plans to communicate these issues to candidates in the upcoming Fall elections. The group lists a number of creative ways they are attempting to get the message out, including chalking, bumper stickers, and other outreach methods.
San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas. Water fluoridation did not begin in the city until August 2002 after a narrow vote of 52 to 48 percent in November 2000. Voters had rejected a similar proposal in 1966 and then when it narrowly passed in 1985, voters launched a petition drive and successfully blocked the measure from being implemented. Despite this, KSAT in San Antonio reports that there does seem to be opposition remaining.
In far West Texas, across the border from Juarez, Mexico activists in El Paso are gearing up for their own battle against water fluoridation. Anthony Aguero of Fluoride Free El Paso said he recently sat with Mayor Oscar Leeser and John E. Balliew, CEO of El Paso Water Utility to discuss the concerns. Aguero is working to meet with City Council members and has been invited to the water utility plant to give a presentation to the engineers about the dangers of fluoride.
Beyond the major towns and cities of Texas there are also a handful of towns with populations under 10,000 that have rejected fluoride including Elgin City, Lago Vista, and Alamo Heights. Whether it is a large metropolis or country town, the dangers of water fluoridation is one issue that Texans seem to be very aware of.
For more information on the history of water fluoridation and the phosphate mining industry please check out Christopher Bryson’s The Fluoride Deception.