Why would a city pay to force its residents to ingest nocuous industrial waste for no reason?
That’s what the reams of documents on fluoridating water, the conflicting claims and counter-claims threatening to bury city council, boil down to.
I was horrified to find out where the fluoride added to our drinking water comes from: it’s an industrial derivative called hydrofluorosilicic acid, and it comes from the scrubbers of smokestacks at fertilizer factories. As Dr. Hardy Limeback writes in a letter to council, “I find it absurd that industrial toxic waste is shipped to the water treatment plants in large tanker trucks and trickled into the drinking water of major cities in North America.”
Limeback is a dentist and former head of preventative dentistry at the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto who has studied the effects of fluoride on teeth and bone. He also served on the U.S. National Academy of Sciences subcommittee on fluoride in drinking water. He’s not a crank. He was a leading authority on fluoride who was often cited by health officials defending fluoridation – until he could no longer ignore the research. In 1999, he changed his position and apologized to his faculty and students, saying he had “unintentionally misled” them.
Why did he change his mind?
“I was initially concerned with the chronic accumulation of fluoride in teeth causing dental fluorosis and in bone causing changes in our skeletal system, which was the focus of my research at the University of Toronto,” he told me in an interview, “but then I found out industrial waste was being used to fluoridate the drinking water. The chemicals used in over 90 per cent of cities in North America are fluorosilicates: they are contaminated with cancer-causing arsenic and radioactive particles and have never been tested for safety in humans.”
Fluorosis is irreversible scarring or mottling on children’s teeth, and it has increased significantly in North America. No one, not even proponents of fluoridation, disputes that it’s caused by fluoride. Limeback calls it a biomarker for fluoride poisoning. The main source is fluoridated water. It’s worse in cities with fluoridated water, and it decreases in cities that stop adding fluoride to their water. Municipalities in New Hampshire are required to put warnings on their water bills about fluorosis.
If fluoride damages tooth enamel, it made sense to question whether or not it also damages bone, Limeback reasoned. Indeed, studies suggest that fluoride accumulates in bone with age, making it more brittle and increasing the risk of hip fractures in the elderly.
Fluoride has also been associated with lower IQ, adverse effects on the thyroid and pineal glands and increased risk of bone cancer, and more studies have been recommended. The people conducting this research aren’t cranks, either. They’re from institutions like the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council in the U.S. and the Harvard School of Public Health. These studies are published in places like the Journal of the American Medical Association. There are Nobel laureates who oppose fluoridation.
Yet many public health officials, including local Medical Officer of Health Dr. Allen Heimann, continue to defend fluoridation, saying there “needs to be very strong evidence” to discontinue it.
I prefer this argument by Dr. James Beck, a retired medical doctor in Calgary who successfully lobbied his city’s council to stop adding fluoride to water: “Any minimally responsible health official would admit there are doubts (about the safety of fluoride),” he told me, “and even with these doubts, you keep giving this stuff to people until someone tells you with absolute certainty this is toxic? That doesn’t make sense.”
Health officials, including Heimann, warn of a rise in tooth decay if cities stop fluoridating. But fluoride’s effect is topical; it helps prevent decay when it touches teeth, not when it’s ingested. And cavities have dropped dramatically in developed countries around the world regardless of whether they fluoridate (most of Europe doesn’t fluoridate). This is because of fluoride toothpaste, milk fortified with Vitamin D, penicillin that kills bacteria that cause decay, better oral hygiene and access to dental care.
Adding fluoride to drinking water, once thought to be the best way to ensure that everyone receives equal care, is now seen to pose unfair risks. Some people, like construction workers and athletes in hot weather, drink a lot more water. Some, such as those with kidney failure, can’t excrete the fluoride properly. Those with poor diets are believed to be more susceptible to the risks of fluoride. And some people can’t afford bottled water to avoid drinking fluoridated water.
Fluoride is classified in the U.S. as an “unapproved drug,” yet it is administered without consent, without warning about the risks, and its effects aren’t monitored. We’d never do that with any other drug.
So why does the public health establishment continue to support fluoridation?
“To save face,” according to Limeback. “Everyone believes they are right because they are backed by so many other organizations that believe they are right.”
Yet, he maintains, “none of them do original research (…clinical trials to prove safety) and large portions of the fluoride toxicity literature (are) being ignored.”
Limeback’s credibility and reputation were attacked when he changed his position. He retired from academia early because of his stand.
So this is what city councillors in Windsor are up against when they meet Monday to debate whether to continue adding fluoride to our water. They need to remember what Beck, the medical doctor, said: “… even with these doubts, you keep giving this stuff to people until someone tells you with absolute certainty this is toxic? That doesn’t make sense.”