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, www.fluoridealert.org. 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.