Dear All,

There is a limit to how many silly editorials that we can print. The blood pressures of our readers can only stand so much. Thus I did not share the editorial written by Brian David (Pittsburg Post-Gazette, April 10, 2002). However, I do so now, because there is a fine response to it from Kevin Cridge, the foreman of the water plant, whose comments at a public meeting in Shaler Township, excited the editorial…

Paul Connett.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

April 10, 2002

A decades-old debate: Should Shaler fluoridate?

Township ponders whether it should do something about ‘Shaler mouth’

By Brian David
Post-Gazette North Editor

It’s a sure sign that the world is, indeed, getting back to normal. No longer are we panicking over white powder on the sidewalk (this being April in Pittsburgh, that white powder would, of course, be snow) or scowling at anyone with the temerity to have darkish skin and a vaguely foreign accent.

We’re still holding disaster training sessions and talking about the local response to terrorism (the logical local response being, “What the heck’r yinz guyz doon in Picksburgh?”), but the images of Osama riding a camel up McKnight Road scattering anthrax seem to have faded.

Which means, of course, that we can now get back to more rational fears — like the government using fluoride to stick tiny radio transmitters to our teeth so it can control our minds. That way we’ll submit, docile as sheep, when the black helicopters land on the cul-de-sac, disgorging World Government troops to trample the begonias and start ordering us around.

Because, you know, that is really what’s going on. Why else would the government sneak fluoride into our water?

All right, all right, I’m exaggerating. No one’s claiming anything about radio transmitters. At least not publicly.

Fluoride, though — a tooth-hardening mineral added to nearly two-thirds of the public water consumed in the United States — is an issue in Shaler.

Shaler does not fluoridate its water, a practice that came under question recently. As word got out that the issue had been raised, township Manager Timothy Rogers got more than 70 e-mail messages from those opposed to adding fluoride to the township water supply. One came from Ireland — we’ll assume from a traveling Shalerite, since bottled Shaler water has not hit the local supermarkets, much less the Emerald Isle.

At a water committee meeting, water plant foreman Kevin Cridge gave the “con” argument: The fluoride added to water is toxic stuff, industrial waste; there are better ways to apply it, like toothpaste and dental treatments; we already get it through juice and soft drinks made with fluoridated water; and too much fluoride can discolor teeth.

Two dental hygienists at the meeting gave an answer that can be summed up in two words: “Shaler mouth.” Among dentists, they said, that’s the casual term for the cavity-riddled teeth common among those e-mail-happy Shalerites and their children.

Cridge is, of course, quite right. There are better ways to apply fluoride. The trouble is that the kids who are not trained to brush their teeth are also the ones most likely to eat sugary diets and go without dental care. We all drink water.

As for the fluoride in pop, that’s patently silly — the sugar and acid in pop does far more damage to teeth than the traces of fluoride could counteract.

As for fluoride discoloring teeth, that’s true — in really high doses. If Shaler were to fluoridate, any parents giving their children fluoride supplements might be advised to stop. But the masses out there who have been drinking the stuff for decades hardly look disfigured.

Finally, there’s that thing about it being industrial waste. To be honest, I don’t know about that. But frankly, Cridge’s credibility is a little suspect, based on the flimsiness of his other arguments.

It’s also suspect because he is the water plant foreman. Presumably, he’s a good water plant foreman, good at handling water treatment. But that hardly makes him an expert on the health effects of fluoride.

Of course, dental hygienists are only dental hygienists. That makes them clearly more knowledgeable about teeth, but still, what about the dentists themselves? Can we expect to hear from them?

Well, if you were a dentist, would you choke off your own business like that? Nah, I’m kidding — I’ve heard a number of dentists wax well-nigh poetic about the benefits of fluoridated water (sensitive, literary souls, those dentists). If the debate goes on, I’m sure they’ll weigh in.

The debate probably won’t go on, though, because the paranoids out there — there really are those who believe fluoride damages our sense of independence and is indeed a government plot — will read this and flood the township with even more e-mail. No elected official wants to deal with that.

And the pro-fluoride forces will never muster a counterattack. Why? Because they’re taking fluoride supplements, which is dulling their sense of independence. In their drugged-up “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” state, they’ll just do whatever they’re told.


Copyright ©1997-2002 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Pittsburgh Post Gazette

April 24, 2002

Informed perspective is part of the job

North Opinion / Letters to the Editor

I read with interest the Viewpoint column “A decades-old debate: Should Shaler fluoridate?” by Brian David in the April 10 edition of PG North.

I attended the Shaler water committee meeting March 26 and presented what I feel are valid reasons for not fluoridating the public drinking water supply. For all of the controversy the subject of fluoridation generates, I was surprised at how few people were at the meeting.

The purpose of this letter is to respond to statements made by David in his column regarding my opposition to public water fluoridation.

David and I agree there are better ways to apply (not ingest) fluoride — if it is desired. And as the father of a son and daughter, ages 12 and 14 respectively, with no cavities, I do not believe there is any reason why a child cannot be taught to brush properly, and be supervised when doing so.

I pointed out at the meeting that many foods and drinks contain fluoride, and pop was one of them. David is correct — it is patently silly to expect any benefit from the topical application of fluoride in pop. That was not my point at all. I used soft drinks as an example of yet another source of fluoride that is ingested.

Regarding the discoloring of teeth due to excessive fluoride exposure, I’m not sure what Mr. David means by “really high doses.”

The concentration of one milligram per liter is considered to be the “optimal” level in public water systems. Under the National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations, the EPA considers fluoride in concentrations of only two milligrams per liter to be high enough to present the risk of “cosmetic” problems –discolored teeth. Additionally, the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations mandate four milligrams per liter as the maximum allowed in the drinking water without presenting a risk to health.

The dose of one milligram per liter was proposed for public water supplies some 50 years ago when there were no sources of fluoride in a person’s diet. Today, with many foods and beverages processed in areas with fluoridated water, how does one know what their total daily fluoride intake would be?

As for the fluoride used in water supplies being industrial toxic waste, David says he honestly does not know about that. That is understandable, since many people are not aware of this.

David needn’t take my word for it. In 1983, the EPA’s then Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water, Rebecca Hanmer, wrote that the EPA views the use of hydrofluosilcic acid recovered from the waste stream of phosphate fertilizer manufacture as “… an ideal solution to a long-standing problem. By recovering by-product fluosilcic acid from fertilizer manufacturing, water and air pollution are minimized, and water authorities have a low-cost source of fluoride. …”

These fluorides come from the wet pollution scrubbing systems (smoke stacks) of the superphosphate fertilizer and aluminum industries, and are called silicofluorides. They are much more toxic than lead, almost as toxic as arsenic, and contain some of both. Today, they can only be disposed of in expensive toxic waste dumps. Prior to “public water fluoridation” these companies spent a fortune disposing of this waste.

David then goes on to say that my being a foreman at the water treatment plant hardly makes me an expert on the health effects of fluoride. It is my job to know all about the various chemicals used in water treatment and their proper use. It is also my job to know about the many contaminants we must monitor for, and their health effects if detected in the water supply in concentrations above the standards.

Fluoride is the only substance that is both a “water treatment chemical” and a contaminant.

But as far as my not being an “expert,” if David means that I am not a dentist or dental hygienist, well, I’m not. I do, however, know that fluoride tablets or drops, usually about one milligram, cannot be obtained without a prescription. One will also receive, along with the fluoride, information about the medicine, such as risks and unwanted side effects, precautions, number of doses per day and what to do if a dose is missed.

I also know that medications — including fluoride, which has never received approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety and effectiveness — are prescribed on an individual need basis. When fluoride is added to the public water supply, it is “one size fits all” — not the best way to dispense medicine.

I believe it is irrelevant whether fluoride is or is not harmful or dangerous. Shaler has an excellent source of groundwater. My co-workers and I take pride in the fact that our water plant consistently produces between 4.5 to 5.5 million gallons daily of potable water, exceeding all the standards set by the regulatory agencies. The water we produce is free of disease-causing organisms and other contaminants.

The addition of fluoride into the water supply would not make it any more safe. By the same token, the water would not be any less safe by not adding fluoride. We are in the business of treating water, not people.

Any decisions regarding the use of fluoride are best left to individuals and their health care providers.

Shaler water treatment plant