health / Stones & Bones / volume 10 number 1, January 2008
Fluoridation's Evaporating Support
In October, Alaska’s third-largest city asked voters to consider using fluoride to medicate the town’s water supply. The issue required a simple up or down vote, one that local water users were eminently qualified to make. The Chicago-based American Dental Association, an advocacy organization, didn’t see it that way. The ADA shipped in consultants, hired gofers, and purchased ad space in all the media outlets.
The advertising barrage, however, had little sway with capital-city residents; they failed to see the virtues of fluoride. In a landslide fashion, Juneau voted to ban the chemical, keeping its water some of the purest in the state. Despite spending $167,000, the pro-fluoride forces garnered a feeble 38 percent. The clean water folks, polling 62 percent, spent only $7,000 in media, relying on word of mouth and the Internet to spread the word.
Juneau’s vote demonstrates that fluoride has overstayed its welcome in many American municipalities. As a mandatory drug, fluoride is facing buyer’s remorse and outright refusal in a growing list of cities.
For sixty years this reactive chemical and highly poisonous substance has been touted to communities, the publicity cloaked in good intentions. The message has been: “Poor folks’ teeth need a quick fix to assure they enjoy the benefits of healthy teeth, just like rich folks. Fluoride is the ticket.”
The fluoride campaign began in the late 1930s and continues to this day. It was hatched at the highest levels of Alcoa, the aluminum mining and smelting corporation. Fluoride is a waste product produced during aluminum processing and requires special handling and disposal. Treating it as a hazardous material is expensive and eroded Aloca’s bottom line.
Today, Alcoa has been joined by US Steel, DuPont, Alcan, Reynolds Metals, Kaiser Aluminum, Allied Chemical, and the Florida phosphate fertilizer industry. Each contributes a share of the 155,000 tons of fluoride waste sold to municipal water systems nationwide. The operation is so sophisticated that its influence extends to academia, media, and government.
The net result is that three generations of Americans have been used as industrial waste filters. The vast majority of fluoride is then dumped into the environment via water treatment outfalls. In the case of Fairbanks, the chemical waste ends up in the Tanana River.
Fluoride’s political history is recounted in a recent book, The Fluoride Deception, by Christopher Bryson (published 2004). A former BBC reporter, Bryson investigated the origins of fluoride’s use in water systems and documents how an obscure finding purporting dental benefit was hijacked by major corporations to avoid the cost of doing business.
As reported by Bryson and others, the revolving door between industry and government, a research project faking fluoride’s effectiveness, and the perception-management wizardry of Edward Bernays allowed Alcoa and other fluoride-producing industries to begin shunting the waste into water systems.
Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew and familiar with Freud’s psychological research. Historians believe this understanding was a critical element in selling fluoride to the American people. With its reputation as a commercial rat poison and use in Nazi and Soviet prison camps (it makes inmates docile), Bernays had an uphill climb. However, using psychological hot buttons (fear, greed, envy, guilt), and a compliant media, Bernays engineered fluoride’s social acceptance.
As it turns out, fluoride’s use in Soviet-era prison camps has a local connection. During World War II, President Roosevelt supported the Soviet Union with tons of military and industrial material. Called the Lend-Lease program, it was aimed at helping defeat the German army at Russia’s front door. Cargo airlifted from the Lower 48 was staged in Fairbanks at what is now Ft. Wainwright, where it was turned over to Russian pilots for flights over the Bering Strait. Among the cargo manifests are thousands of pounds of sodium fluoride.
It’s not known what Bernays thought of using fluoride for prison control. However, it’s clear from the following passage that he counted himself among the invisible elite:
For his success with fluoride, and earlier work for pork producers (“bacon and eggs for breakfast”) and cigarettes ("torches of liberty"), Bernays is considered the father of the public relations industry.
In many parts of the world, Bernays’ fluoride spin has been rejected. New science about how it alters body chemistry as well as a growing number of studies that show dental health in communities with fluoride fares no better than those without it, have canceled earlier support. Such was the justification offered by Zurich, Switzerland officials when fluoride was discontinued several years ago. Similar data has caused fluoride to be banned in Japan, China, India, and most of Europe. Fluoride’s strongholds are the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
While fluoride proponents still have affiliates in national health organizations, many have withdrawn support. Among the health advocates opposing fluoride are: the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology, the American Academy of Diabetes, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Kidney Foundation, and the Society of Toxicology.
Some of the most effective anti-fluoride campaigners are former supporters. Consider Hardy Limeback, BSc, PhD, DDS, head of the Department of Preventive Dentistry for the University of Toronto and president of the Canadian Association for Dental Research. In an April 1999 interview, Limeback, once a vocal advocate of the drug, stated, “Children under three should never use fluoridated toothpaste or drink fluoridated water. And baby formula must never be made up using Toronto tap water. Never.”
Seven years later, in 2006, the ADA, followed by the CDC, issued advisories calling on mothers to stop using tap water to mix baby formula. The ADA has also recently acknowledged that fluoride has no value when used systemically, that its only effectiveness comes from topical applications. Nevertheless, the federal health bureaucracy calls fluoride a major advancement, apparently in denial about the schizophrenic nature of its policies.
Adding further momentum to calls to end fluoridation, a study released last year by the National Academies' National Research Council (NRC), sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency, found that the current maximum levels of fluoride allowed by the EPA in drinking water should be lowered due to concerns over adverse health effects. The current maximum contaminant level of fluoride is 4 mg/L. The NRC found that these levels are too high and "not protective" of the population.
Numerous studies reviewed by the NRC report that fluoride is linked to subclinical or malfunctioning thyroid glands. This is "associated with increased cholesterol concentrations, increased incidence of depression, diminished response to standard psychiatric treatment, cognitive dysfunction, and in pregnant women, decreased IQ of their offspring."
The NRC study says that sources for internal fluoride exposure include inhalation and dermal absorption. This means that when you bathe or shower fluoride is entering your body via breathing and contact. The NRC panel then examined numerous reports showing an association between fluoride ingestion and a range of physical complaints that included thyroid disorder, brittle bones, kidney failure, arthritis, and cancer.
Some of the most telling science of fluoride’s effects comes from the work of Roger Masters, an emeritus researcher at Dartmouth College. Masters directed research that found an insidious connection between fluoride and lead. The study compared children’s blood in communities using fluoride-treated water with communities using nonfluoridated water. Drawing from samples of more than 400,000 children, increased blood lead levels were always associated with fluoride-treated water. According to Masters, fluoride leaches lead from the water system’s pipes and fixtures.
In light of this work and other new data, the justification for using fluoride in water systems evaporates. No one can rationally contend that its benefit exceeds its cost. Who disputes the fact that chronic lead poisoning lowers IQ and promotes criminal behavior? Yet in the presence of fluoridated water, small amounts of lead are are disabling generations of Americans.
The evidence continues to mount against fluoride. This month Scientific American magazine carries a major article that assembles much of the data in one place. “Scientific attitudes toward fluoridation may be starting to shift,” writes author Dan Fagin.
Fagin, the Director of New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, says, “There is no universally accepted optimal level for daily intake of fluoride.” Fagin reports that some researchers wonder whether the 1 mg/L (250 times more fluoride than breast milk) added to drinking water is too much.
Fagin’s Scientific American article highlights total consumption because fluoride is also found in foods, beverages, medicines, and dental products. With fluoride coming from a variety of sources, experts fear we are overdosing ourselves. Fluoride overconsumption is visible first in children as dental fluorosis—white-spotted, yellow, brown and/or pitted teeth. This is a sign of too much fluoride. Depending on location, estimates of childhood fluorosis in the US range between 30 to 80 percent.
Before class-action lawsuits are filed, before the weight of science crushes the bureaucracy, let’s take heed of the accumulated facts and make the necessary adjustments. Even if it’s sixty years late, the precautionary principle remains a valid guide. Further damage will end with a moratorium on fluoride.
Douglas Yates is a writer and photographer with a keen interest in water. He lives in Ester.
More on fluoride:
“Second Thoughts about Fluoride,” by Dan Fagin. Scientific American, January 2008
“Water Fluoridation: A Review of Recent Research and Actions,” by Joel M. Kauffman, PhD. Journal of Am. Physicians and Surgeons, Summer 2005 (10:2:38). Available on line as a pdf at www.jpands.org/vol10no2/kauffman.pdf
“Fluoride water ‘causes cancer’,” by Bob Woffinden. The Observer, Sunday, June 12, 2005. Available on line at http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1504672,00.html
“Juneau, stop adding fluoride to water,” guest opinion by David Ottoson, Juneau businessman. Juneau Empire, September 11, 2006. Available on line at www.juneauempire.com/stories/091106/opi_20060911097.shtml
City and Borough of Juneau public analysis of fluoride, available on line at www.juneau.org/clerk/boards/Fluoride/Fluoride_Study_Commission.php