UNION BRIDGE — Bret Grossnickle never thought much about the fluoride compounds he puts into the Westminster water system until a stranger called the water department asking where the city gets its fluoride.

In light of Sept. 11 and a greater concern for homeland security, Grossnickle wondered why someone would want to know where the sodium fluoride and hydrofluosilicic acid, which comes in packaging marking it as a toxic material, came from and why anyone else would want to get some.

After talking with the caller, who turned out to be a city resident concerned about the safety of putting fluoride in drinking water, Grossnickle began to question public water fluoridation himself. He visited the Web site of the Fluoride Action Network, an international coalition aimed at broadening public awareness about negative health effects of fluoride exposure, and grew more concerned.

He also read the book “The Fluoride Deception,” which explores the use of fluoride in the development of the atomic bomb, its later use in numerous industries and the concealment that fluoride made some workers ill as industry-supported scientists pushed to have the fluoride byproducts put in public water systems to divert attention from the compound’s pollution of the air.

Reading about the diseases fluoride can cause, particularly dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis, which causes defects and weaknesses in tooth enamel and arthritic bone disease, Grossnickle started to wonder about some white marks he had noticed on his sons’ teeth. When he asked his children’s dentist about it, the dentist confirmed Grossnickle’s suspicions that they were the signs of dental fluorosis — a result of overconsuming fluoride during early childhood years.

Grossnickle said the dentist told him not to worry about it because it was a mild form.

“It’s mild, but it’s permanent,” Grossnickle said, shaking his head. “These are their permanent teeth.”

Taking a stand

Grossnickle attended Wednesday’s meeting of the Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council to give his input on the fluoride debate, which was just beginning before the council.
The EAC is considering two issues with fluoride: its risks to infants and the general policy behind public water system fluoridation.

The first issue involves publicizing a new statement by the American Dental Association from November 2006 warning that infants up to 12 months of age should not have fluoridated water or formula made with fluoridated water. That statement also warned that children under the age of 2 should not be given fluoride toothpaste, and that children up to age 6 should be supervised while brushing their teeth and reminded to spit out the toothpaste rather than swallow it — to prevent overconsumption.

The EAC agreed that a letter containing the warning about infants and fluoridated water should be sent to all public water system operators in the county in time for printing the June water quality reports.

These annual consumer confidence reports are mailed to water users, printed in newspapers or included in town newsletters, and are required to reach water users by July 1 following the end of the calendar year that the report is based on, said Ann Baugher, county environmental compliance technician.

Only four water systems in the county are fluoridated, according to the Carroll County Health Department: Freedom District, Mount Airy, Wakefield Valley and Westminster.

At last week’s meeting, EAC member Sher Horosko brought charts from the World Health Organization that showed a decline of tooth decay and cavity cases in all Western European nations over the past 40 years, despite the fact that the majority of these countries do not fluoridate public water. If these nonfluoridated countries have had the same success as fluoridated countries, Horosko wondered what the purpose is of continuing public water system fluoridation, in light of associated health risks.

Robyn Gilden, a public health nurse on the EAC, said she believes the decrease in tooth decay and cavity cases are still linked to fluoride usage, and that residents in countries that don’t add fluoride to their water are getting the chemical from a different source.

Grossnickle agreed that people do get fluoride from other sources — which is one of the reasons he now opposes fluoridating public water. In Union Bridge, Grossnickle’s hometown where he also serves as mayor, the public water is not fluoridated, so his children did not get their fluoride from the drinking water, he said.

The fluoride supplements prescribed by doctors are supposed to give children a more accurate dose of fluoride than drinking water because some children drink more water than others, he said, and yet his children still have dental fluorosis from overconsumption of fluoride. They have since stopped taking the pills, he said.

Fluoride can be found in toothpaste, mouthwash, juice, soda, tea, alcohol, fish, seafood, mechanically deboned chicken, fluoridated salt and even some cigarettes, according to studies in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, Journal of the American Dental Association and Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry.

Fluoride also occurs naturally in some groundwater, Grossnickle said, but he does not believe that is the case with Union Bridge.

A widespread problem

According to a 2005 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 percent of American children now have some form of dental fluorosis, with 2 percent to 4 percent of children having moderate to severe stages.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency previously allowed 2 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water, stating that there were no known or anticipated adverse effects on human health at that level. But in 1985, under an administration change in the EPA, the regulations were changed, stating that while 2 mg/L was likely to produce dental fluorosis, that should not be considered a health risk, Horosko said. Instead, the EPA classified the tooth mottling caused by dental fluorosis as a cosmetic defect. The maximum contaminant load was increased to 4 mg/L, Horosko said, which remains the current standard.

The National Academy of Sciences released a report in March 2006 that concluded that the current allowable level of fluoride in drinking water, 4 mg/L, does not protect public health and should be lowered, Gilden said. The committee highlighted concerns about the potential of fluoride to lower IQ and an increased risk of bone fractures for children overexposed to fluoride. The study, however, did not recommend a safe level of fluoride, Gilden said, but has left it to the EPA to set a new standard.

The U.S. Public Health Service recommends between 0.7 and 1.2 parts per million of fluoride in public water systems as an additive to strengthen teeth, and yet dental fluorosis still affects 32 percent of children in America, Grossnickle said. If the recommended standards aren’t protecting the children, then maybe they aren’t good enough standards, he maintains. This issue deserves to be researched and questioned, he said.

“I don’t think that the government should medicate drinking water,” Grossnickle said. “We’re forcing people to accept a product that they may not want.”