Archive | December, 2010

Reconsidering Water Flouridation in San Diego: A Thirst for Clarity

Posted on 07 December 2010 by John Rippo

Commentary by Gabriel Shaputnic

Water fluoridation, the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water at a concentration of about 1 part per million (ppm), is scheduled to begin in San Diego City in November. While proponents argue the practice is for dental health, the outcomes of water fluoridation leave that conclusion in doubt. All developed nations have experienced a sharp decline in cavity rates with or without fluoridated water, as noted in several journals including this side note in a 1988 paper in the Journal of the American Dental Association, which reports the declining cavity rate  “…in the US and other Western industrialized countries has been observed in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities, with percentage reductions in each community apparently about the same.”
Health concerns from early fluoridation projects led San Diegans to pass a law in 1954, SDMC 67.0101, prohibiting the addition of fluoride to public drinking water.  However, in 1995 Governor Pete Wilson signed AB733, the Statewide Fluoridation Act, requiring water fluoridation for most of the state. State law overrides local law, and in 2008 SD City Council accepted funding to begin water fluoridation in the City. Currently 10 percent of the City’s water comes from the Metropolitan Water District, which adds fluoride at a level of about .7ppm (less fluoride is added in areas of warmer weather based on the assumption people will drink more).  Much of Kearny Mesa receives that water and large parts of the county are fluoridated as well.
California is currently investigating the cancer-causing potential of fluoride under the auspices of Prop 65, the law responsible for the signs warning of “chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer…” posted at some establishments.  Fluoride has an historic association with osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal bone cancer, and California, although mandating fluoride’s consumption, is simultaneously investigating its potential carcinogenicity.
One of the main organizations supporting water fluoridation efforts in San Diego is a Massachusetts dental insurance company called the Delta Dental Foundation. Chester Douglass, a former Harvard professor, is the Chairman of Delta Dental’s Board of Trustees. He’s also the editor of Colgate’s Oral Report.  He conducted a study with the help of Ph.D candidate Elise Bassin concerning water flouridation which came under question by peers reviewing the work.
Their study investigated the relationship between water fluoridation and osteosarcoma. Fluoride accumulates in the bones, so Bassin investigated the childhood “growth spurt” period when bones are growing quickly. She found an over 500% increase in osteosarcoma in boys that consumed fluoridated water between the ages of 6-8.  Increases were also found in the 4-12 age group.
When Douglass presented his work to several public health bodies he reported finding no increase in osteosarcoma, although he included Bassin’s paper in his references.  That striking omission led to an investigation.
At that time the National Research Council (NRC) was conducting a review of the nation’s drinking water standards with regards to fluoride. Their 2006 report was, and is, the most comprehensive review of the literature on fluoride to date. It is available online along with the (much shorter) Executive Summary. The NRC heard nothing from Douglass about his findings of osteosarcoma.  Although Harvard exonerated the professor, its report on the matter remains sealed.
In 1977, Congress discovered that although water fluoridation had been practiced in the US for over 30 years, no federal scientific data was available on its potential cancer-causing effects. It ordered the National Toxicology Program (NTP) to perform animal cancer studies.
The lab that conducted the studies found osteosarcomas in male rats, and found several other cancers as well, including a very rare liver cancer. The NTP, however, reviewed those lab results, and reclassified every finding of cancer except the osteosarcomas as something less severe. According to Dr. William Marcus, Senior Science Advisor in EPA’s Office of Drinking Water, that was unscientific manipulation of data, and the cancers found by the lab and erased by the NTP should have resulted in a finding of at least “Some Evidence” of carcinogenicity. Dr. Marcus was fired for publicly opposing EPA’s position on fluoride, but won his job back through court action.
The story of the NTP cancer study is told in detail on the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) website, FAN is a group of scientists, environmentalists, and health professionals committed to informing the public about fluoride. FAN has compiled hundreds of scientific studies on the health effects of fluoride, and has published excerpts and links to many of the studies and abstracts.  Contrary to the long-standing notion of fluoride’s safety, this database shows that fluoride may play a strong role in many of the most prevalent diseases in our society.
Arthritis, in its most common forms, is indistinguishable from mild skeletal fluorosis without bone fluoride tests. Before skeletal changes become apparent, joint pain sets in.  Without knowledge of either skeletal fluorosis or the difference between it and arthritis, doctors are likely to diagnose either rheumatoid or osteoarthritis. Bone fluoride tests are not often administered and, as Chris Neurath of FAN points out, there has never been a comprehensive review of fluoride levels in people’s bodies in the United States.
A good marker for excessive fluoride consumption, however, is dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis comes from childhood fluoride poisoning, and is permanent. It produces tooth discoloration and in extreme cases pitting and malformation. The highest rate is found in young teenagers, with over 36% affected.  Over 3% of these teens have the moderate to severe form of the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease-like plaques and lesions were found in rats consuming “optimally” fluoridated water (1ppm).  Fluoride was found to carry aluminum across the blood brain barrier.  Aluminum in the brain has long been associated with Alzheimer’s, which is the seventh leading cause of death in America and is increasing in the younger population, affecting over 500,000 people under the age of 65.
In 1995, Dr. Phyllis Mullenix published the first scientific paper in the US on the topic of fluoride’s neurotoxicity—its effects on the brain. She and others since have found fluoride is highly neurotoxic.  She found fluoride to cause ADHD-like behavior, decreased IQ, and slower learning in rats born to fluoride-treated mothers. Rats weaned on fluoridated water showed underactive, “couch potato”-like behavior.
Dr. Mullenix was fired and lost all research funding when her paper was accepted for publication. Again, hers was the first published scientific data on fluoride’s neurotoxicity in the US. The FAN website contains excerpts from the 23 published studies associating fluoride intake with decreased IQ.
Fluoride’s past use as thyroid-suppressing medication for patients experiencing an over-active thyroid gives rise to concerns it may be contributing to the high rates of hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid, in the US. Synthroid, the drug used to treat hypothyroidism, is the third most prescribed drug in the country. An effective dose for thyroid suppression was 2 – 10mg fluoride per day, which overlaps the 1.6 – 6.6 mg/day the EPA estimates people ingest in areas of water fluoridation. Fluoride’s effects on hypothyroidism in the US are unknown, but the 2006 NRC report states “The effects of fluoride on various aspects of endocrine function [which includes the thyroid gland] should be examined further, particularly with respect to a possible role in the development of several diseases or mental states in the United States.”  Three members of the NRC panel, Dr. Robert Isaacson, Dr. Kathleen Thiessin, and Dr. Hardy Limeback, dropped their pro-fluoridation standpoints after conducting the study, and are now contributors to or members of FAN.
Most studies on links between water fluoridation and hip fracture published since 1990 show an increased rate of hip fracture in the elderly that are exposed to fluoridated water. Some experiments using fluoride to treat osteoporosis—a use often touted by fluoridation proponents—increased bone fracture rates by 3 and even up to 10 times.
Animal and human studies have both associated fluoride intake with early onset of puberty in females. The pineal gland houses the highest concentration of fluoride in the body. It regulates melatonin, a hormone partly responsible for the timing of sexual maturity.  In Newburgh, NY and Grand Rapids, MI, the first two fluoridated cities in the US, the age of puberty for females dropped by 5-6 months after 10 years of water fluoridation.
The fluoride added to water most of the time is not pharmaceutical-grade sodium fluoride. It is unrefined industrial waste, mainly from the fertilizer industry. The contents of industrial air filters is shipped directly to water treatment plants. This industrial waste contains silico-fluorides, unique in their ability to increase the body’s absorption of lead. Decreased learning and IQ are well-known effects of lead ingestion.
Industry workers exposed to airborne fluorides experience higher rates of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. Airborne fluorides have escaped regulation until recently, and even today are allowed in the workplace at levels 125 times higher than the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found to be safe.
Since 2006 the ADA and other public health organizations have warned against consumption of fluoridated water by infants less than 1 year old due to concerns of dental fluorosis.  Fluoridated water contains at least 100 times as much fluoride as is found in breast milk (it is up to 500 times higher at 4ppm—the EPA’s “safe” level of fluoride in water), even if the mother consumes fluoridated water.  Infants consuming formula prepared with fluoridated water have the highest exposure to fluoride of any other group, and infants are most sensitive to its effects.
For 45 years before 1990, major public health organizations promoted water fluoridation without any knowledge of its cancer-causing potential or its neurotoxicity, while those that oppose water fluoridation have been sidelined. Scientists finding negative health effects, as with Dr. Mullenix and Dr. Marcus, have been harassed and even fired for conducting science. In the US, as in San Diego, the movement toward water fluoridation has always come from the top. Twice, San Diego voters have reconsidered our law against water fluoridation, and have upheld it in the ballot box.  Whether we will allow fluoride to be added to San Diego water is up to us.

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SOHO Looks Out For the Ladies: Save Our Heritage Organization in forefront to preserve local history

Posted on 02 December 2010 by John Rippo

July 16 is the anniversary of the founding of San Diego in 1769. One would think that the city might commemorate the date of its founding but this doesn’t happen here. One reason why it doesn’t is because history tends to get in the way of some people’s future and those who shape the real estate realities of San Diego have little patience with the monuments to the dead hand of the past when seeking future profits.
San Diego offers a rich, layered and multi-dimensional history packed into less than 250 years of Euro-American impact on what was a thriving Native American community for millenia. Spain, Mexico and the United States collided here. The Spanish started California’s wine industry here, and established their first Mission here. The Mexican Californios shaped the American state far more profoundly than the conquering Americans give them credit for. Two of the men who did that shaping were neighbors in Old Town; their history has been deftly suppressed for over a century in the interest of cultural imperialism and the means to easier profits.
When history is suppressed and obliterated its lack robs meaning from the current populace of the region by removing a sense of continuity and community. It is as if residents live in a place lacking any organic logic of how it came to be;  its human scale is diminished and residents’ links to it are weakened. As Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, “There’s no there, there.” San Diego shares a similar problem with Oakland; “There” keeps changing and changes are made by by people who decide what is best for a place and make  change happen—whether locals like it or not.
Luckily, there is an organization dedicated to fighting that and to preserving what it can of San Diego’s architectural, cultural and topographic heritage. This is the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO).
SOHO is forty-one years old. It marked its anniversary in November. It arose almost by accident in 1969 when artist Robert Miles Parker agitated to save a Middletown Victorian from the wrecker’s ball. His ad-hoc citizen’s activist group morphed into the non-profit organization now headed by Bruce and Alana Coons that has saved hundreds of worthy structures from becoming firewood. The list of their victories is impressive: The Hotel del Coronado, the Marston House, the Villa Montezuma at 20th and K Streets; much of downtown and numerous other Victorian houses that date to the 1870’s still stand because SOHO interrupted the process of “progress” on their behalf. One of the structures they interceded for is the Verna House, on San Diego Avenue in Old Town. The antic 1870’s cottage serves as a museum shop for SOHO and is the public office for the organization. Next door is another saved structure—the New Orleans Café, one of this city’s exemplary offerings of Gulf Coast fare which is located in a tiny false-front wooden structure that dates to when Ulysses S. Grant was president of the United States. To some, this proves that even ancient structures can have a worthy and even vital place in modern society. The Coonses seem to place a high emphasis on this idea; Bruce Coons has floated a concept to use the 1910’s California Theatre Building at 4th and C Streets as a home for nearby City Hall as a way to upgrade the needs of the City without resorting to the massive expense of a new building.
In recent years, SOHO successfully energized a designation for some buildings deemed worthy of preservation. Called the Mills Act after state senator James Mills, it encourages homeowners whose structures have proven historical significance to keep and maintain the outer structure of the homes as original as possible. The incentive is a tax break on property value. Critics of the Mills Act claim that too many “insignificant” properties are taken from the tax rolls which hurts the city’s bottom line. Others maintain that the numbers of suitable properties for Mills Act consideration are not great—less than 400—and that keeping old structures in place prevents them from being replaced by unquestionably insignificant, indifferently designed and cheaply constructed modern replacements that have all the character and appearance of a packing crate. Besides that, the distinct character of neighborhoods can be preserved and preserving neighborhoods preserves the property values in places like North Park, Hillcrest, Mission Hills and the Gaslamp, making these areas more desirable for home and business owners and helping to stabilize property values in a time of depression.
The Coonses have stated publicly that preservation is more than saving the odd Victorian here and there. They say it’s about culture and the ability of individuals to preserve the cultural elements that are important to them.
Preserving cultural elements is where things get interesting.
San Diego is a battleground of cultures struggling for prominence. On one hand, there are the neighborhoods whose residents are happy with their status quo. Barrio Logan, Mission Hills, Sherman Heights, Ocean Beach, La Jolla and others are filled with people who grew up in their neighborhoods who define themselves through their turf and who are reluctant to face sweeping change, especially when it’s imposed by outsiders. On the other hand are developers and others who want to reap the benefits of tearing down the old and building anew. This group has no use for the history or people in a targeted zone except as a basis for a marketable fiction that can be used as a selling tool for real estate. To the developer, history is merely a gimmick and preservation of old structures is an impediment to redevelopment of scarce land. Great fortunes can be made more quickly from the development of real estate if the means to profit—manipulation of the past—can be safely guaranteed. The carefully groomed past is a gold mine; the sizzle that sells the steak.
For example, the chic neighborhood now called Little Italy that markets itself as an stylish Italian oasis to locals and as a tourist attraction to cruise ship passengers does little to recall the generations of residents that gave the neighborhood its historical street cred now used by modern promoters. Most of the original structures were bulldozed to make way for steel and glass boutiques while other remaining buildings have been remodeled out of all proportion and their sometimes colorful histories ignored. Marketing an ethnic Italian essence with poster images of notable ethnics who never set foot in Little Italy substitutes fiction for the past realities of the neighborhood; this makes for high sales volume for everything from cannoli to condos. While Little Italy is beautiful and dynamic it isn’t real in any meaningful sense with respect to its own past. SOHO as well as others who live and work in this neighborhood and others, have to deal with these kinds of competing pressures all the time. Unfortunately, there are many losses as well as victories for the organization.
One of those losses was a building that belonged to the Salvation Army which stood at the corner of Park Boulevard and Broadway. Built as a car dealership in the ’30’s, it was celebrated by architects as a classic of deco design; one that had escaped significant alteration. Though the building had been neglected and was in an area that had suffered blight at least since the 1960’s, it still had meaning to those who understood its character and the value derived from it. Efforts to preserve it failed and the owners destroyed it in a military-like demolition that occurred on a weekend when legal interference was unlikely. At press time, the rubble of the wreckage still remains on site and the site’s future is unclear; the Salvation Army claims its standing as a religious organization exempts it from the kinds of review intended to save historic structures. There are many like this building that got away—The Hotel San Diego, The Arctic Café, Calvary Hill, Ryan Aeronautical, the downtown YMCA and too many others. SOHO is overtly powerless to force owners to conserve their structures. Even with public pressure, a common tactic for many owners of unwanted old buildings is to let them deteriorate to the point where they become dangerous, at which time they can be levelled in the interest of public safety and to reduce blight. One of the unfortunate realities that often follow this kind of tactic is that the new structures that arise on the spot of the lost do little to add to the esthetic of the surroundings. SOHO’s archive and that of the San Diego Historical Society are filled with pictures of what once stood here—buildings with charm, elegance and even grandeur—which are now the sites of unremarkable structures that do little to add to the city’s image as “America’s Finest City”.
Amid the losses, there are mistakes, too. History is often a choice of what some prefer to recall, commemorate and respect. Preserving cultural elements is a lot like beauty—the eye of the beholder is paramount and choice is rarely a democratic process.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Old Town. Until the 1870’s, Old Town was San Diego and the most important elements that shaped Spanish, Mexican and American California happened in the area that spans from Presidio Park to the Five freeway. It was here that San Diego first became settled when Spanish explorers and soldiers established the  rude garrison and church on Presidio hill and its remains still lie on the hill slope where the inattentive wanderer may trip over them due to a lack of clear markings about their presence and importance. The destiny of the future San Diego was first guaranteed in Old Town when the San Diego River was controlled by a US Army topographical engineer named George Derby who—when sober—constructed a channel that is still followed today that directs the river to the Pacific through Mission Bay instead of along its original path where Taylor Street now runs toward San Diego Harbor. The Presidio situates the spot where the Stars and Stripes first flew over California in 1847, and Old Town’s Casa de Pico was once the residence of the family of  Andrés Pico, the Californio lancer who defeated the hapless American cavalry under Stephen Watts Kearney at the Battle of San Pasqual during the Mexican American War. The Casa de Pedrorena was the residence of  Miguel de Pedrorena, San Diego delegate to the first California Constitutional convention in 1849. The Oxford-educated Pedrorena was a powerful voice that helped make California a free state and worked to preserve the rights of the Californios newly taken into the American Union. On Old Town’s Plaza the misnamed Ramona’s Marriage Place stands—an architectural ancestor of every ranch-style house built ever since. Near it is the site of the Casa de Bandini—home of Juan Bandini who in his day was the single most important man in the Mexican and early American period.
Though Old Town and its immediate surroundings are historically important, it has been scrubbed nearly clean of its Spanish, Mexican and Native American historical significance in favor of the early American period. Nowhere is this historical revisionism more visible than at the Casa de Bandini—now restored as the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which it was for a short time in the 1870’s. The jarring switch from the historically prominent Mexican to the insignificant American history of the building is a dash of cold water to anyone familiar with the earliest years of San Diego and calls into question whose history is to be preserved—and why.
Part of that answer lies with Bruce Coons and the realpolitik of preservation efforts. New York concessionaire Delaware North wrested control of Old Town’s main plaza operations from the Bazaar del Mundo over a decade ago. Afterward there came an alliance with SOHO which resulted in energetic and costly efforts to preserve the area at great expense. Over the past decade, Delaware North—and Coons—showed a marked preference for emphasizing Old Town’s early American years at the expense of the founding Spanish and Mexican ones and  this preference obscures the time from the 1769 arrival of the Spaniards to the Mexican American War. Delaware North is now gone but the cultural impact on the history of Old Town will be long lasting—evidence that even the good guys can make very bad mistakes when trying to do the right thing to keep historical treasures from turning to dust and fading away.
Nevertheless, SOHO is the leading local champion of preserving the past and one of their current crucial battles involves the Kumeyaay Indian burial ground at UCSD. The ancient spot, crucial to the local Indian culture, is admittedly hard to spot and to some, of questionable importance when weighed against the plans for the future. But the friends of historical preservation argue that culture, heritage and the significance of the past is crucial to a sense of place and community for the present and can shape the future in ways that give all people here a better sense of their home territory. And for that, SOHO stands pre-eminent.

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