Fluoride Action Network

Yemen: Fluoride contamination is putting bones at risk

Source: Yemen Observer | June 5th, 2007 | By Thuria Ghaleb
Location: International

The number of children who are suffering from rickets, a softening of the bones in children potentially leading to fractures and deformity, is increasing in the Sanhan district in Sana’a governorate, said a new Yemeni study. The results of the study were presented in a meeting held at UNICEF on Sunday, May 28. A large number of Sanhanis are suffering from osteomalacia, a condition similar to rickets occurring in adults, as well as tooth decay and corrosion, as a result of increasing the fluoride in the drinking water in this area.

The meeting gathered different sectors of the UNICEF, the Public Authority for Rural Water Resources, and journalists to discuss the issue. It is also took some preliminary measures to fight against this problem and to educate people about it. Fluoride is a known mutagen, particularly where it is found in concentrated amounts. In the body, fluoride accumulation occurs primarily in the bones, particularly during the developmental years. Yet fluoride is often added in minute amounts to drinking water, as it strengthens teeth in small concentrations. There, fluoride artificially stimulates bone cell growth, generally in long bones such as the legs and arms, which may lead to cancerous growths.

Osteosarcoma in children, particularly young boys exposed during the bone growth-spurt years of five to 10, has been specifically associated with the effects of fluoride exposure. Osteosarcoma is not the only serious side effect of fluoride. Bone cancer, bone pain and swelling, and fluorosis have all been associated with excessive fluoride exposure. The effects of fluoride can cause long term and irreversible health effects. Treatment for osteosarcoma and other fluoride-induced health problems can be a long and expensive process resulting in physical, emotional and financial stress on the patient and the patient’s family. Most Yemenis dwelling in rural areas use deep-well water for drinking and household works—and a large number of these wells are contaminated with fluoride in a concentration of 2.5 to 32 milligrams. This chemical substance is available in different concentrations in the water of most of Yemeni governorates.

But it is found in high rates in some districts of some governorates such as Sana’a, Ibb, Dhamar, Taiz, al-Dhalei and Raimah. As a result of the frequent complaints made by people living in Sanhan district about the dangers of the fluoride found in their drinking water, a specialized team was formed to make a study about the area. The study, titled “The effects of increasing the fluoride in drinking water wells in Sanhan district in Sana’a governorate,” was conducted by the Public Authority for Rural Water Resources in cooperation with some officials in this area. The amount of fluoride in the drinking water considered to be safe, according to the specifications of the World Health Organization, is 0.5 to 1.5 milligrams per liter. But more than that can be deleterious to people’s health. When there is a concentration of more than 1.5 mg per liter in the drinking water, people’s teeth start changing to a brown color.

[PHOTO: There is an unusually high prevalence of rickets in the Sanhan area.]

The children’s teeth were suffering from mottling and dental fluorosis, when drinking water was contaminated with fluoride at 2 to 3mg per liter, according to the study. At a focus of 3 to 6 mg per liter, children and elderly people suffer from dangerous problems in their bones. Children are more prone to suffer from osteomalacia, rickets, while elderly people’s bones suffer from a corrosion and osteoporosis. The case may develop to a skeletal fluorosis. High concentrations of fluoride in the water also lead to some bad material effects. It causes the erosion of some water system components, such as the pump and pipes, especially when it is found in the presence of high concentrations of some other elements.

Maqula village is one of the many other villages in Yemen suffering from the high concentration of fluoride in the drinking water wells. It is located in southeast of Sana’a in the Sanhan district. About 3,100 people living in this village depend on some wells contaminated with 5 to 6 mg per liter of fluoride. Ill effects on the people’s public health have become noticeable. Children’s teeth start changing to brown and corroding, for example. Field tests conducted on drinking water in Sanhan district show that the focus of the fluoride varies from one village to another, between 3 to 6.5 mg per liter. The variation depends on the nature of the geological structures in the area, or on the rocks that contain a high rate of fluoride compounds. She’an village is another area suffering from excessive fluoride.

It is also located in southeast of Sanaa city in the Sanhan district. About 2,850 people living in this area also depend on the wells to get clean water for drinking. But these waters are contaminated with the fluoride at levels reaching 5.3 mg per liter. These same effects found in Maqula village have begun affecting people living in She’an. No dangers of the fluoride affect people in al-Daram village. Drinking water brought from wells in this area contained just 1.5 to 1.9 mg per liter. About 950 people in al-Daram village, located next to the two other villages in Sanhan district, are still drinking from their wells. In al-Khaw’h village in the Khawlan area, the team recorded about 47 children who have advanced stages of rickets, including 32 males and 15 females, of about 149 total children living in this village. All of the affected children are younger than 10 years old.

[PHOTO: Excess fluoride in the drinking water destroys tooth enamel and rots teeth.]

There are two ways to remove the fluoride from the drinking water: sedimentation and adsorption and ion exchange. But the two ways are still difficult for the Yemeni government to achieve. These procedures require enormous financial support. Until Yemeni is able to find a way to remove excessive fluoride from its water, people should follow some simple steps to prevent disease. One rudimentary test a person can do to test the water supply is to dip a few fingers into it and then rub them together. Sticky fingers suggest an overabundance of fluoride. Then, he should stop drinking from these waters and quickly inform the specialized authorities to come and make the necessary tests.

These waters should not be also used for cooking. However, they can be used for bathing and washing the clothes, because it works to increase the foaming of the soap. People who are compelled to drink from these waters should eat large quantities of food containing calcium and phosphorous to fight the dangers caused by the fluoride on the public health. Milk and its derivatives, fish and chicken, eggs and baquliat are some of the foods that work to decrease the dangers of the fluoride.