It’s more toxic than lead, Alar, FD&C Red No. 3, and only slightly less toxic than arsenic—and it’s found in most people’s drinking water.
However, this well-known toxin isn’t in the water by accident. In 1945, U.S. municipalities began treating public water supplies with fluoride compounds in a process called fluoridation. Proponents of fluoridation claim that it’s a low-cost way to vastly improve Americans’ dental health.
In 1992, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that 62 percent of the U.S. population connected to public water supplies received fluoridated water. Efforts to fluoridate water in new communities continue—but so does the debate.
Researchers have warned that intake of too much fluoride can cause skeletal and dental fluorosis (severe weakening of the bones, muscles, joints, and tooth enamel), bone fractures, and lethal poisoning. Proponents of fluoridation argue that the amount of fluoride in drinking water supplies is kept well below harmful levels. However, fluoride accumulates in human tissues—and humans ingest fluoride from other sources. Critics say that the combined amount of fluoride from toothpaste, pesticide residues, and fluoridated water may be exposing millions of Americans to potentially toxic levels of fluoride.
Support for fluoridation
Many professional medical and scientific organizations, including the American Dental Association (ADA), endorse fluoridation. Both the CDC and ADA report that fluoride promotes good dental health. In addition to directly inhibiting the production of cavity-causing acids by the bacteria in plaque, fluoride is incorporated into tooth enamel, fortifying it and enabling enamel to repair itself more quickly.
The ADA states that in addition to the prevention of tooth decay, fluoridation “prevents needless infection, pain, suffering, and loss of teeth; improves the quality of life; and saves vast sums of money in dental treatment costs.” The CDC estimates that for every dollar spent on fluoridation, eighty dollars in dental treatment costs are avoided.
Despite the apparent success of fluoridation, both the CDC and the ADA warn that tooth decay is still common. The CDC states that 94 percent of people age eighteen and older have had cavities in their permanent teeth.
Arguments against fluoridation
Critics contend that fluoride offers no significant health benefits, and that fluoridation in fact creates serious health risks, including cancer and osteoporosis.
In a report entitled “Achievements in Public Health, 1900–1999,” the CDC dismissed fluoride health risk claims, citing a report by the National Research Council that found “no credible evidence” to substantiate any of these claims.
With so much support for fluoridation, it’s interesting that the employees’ union at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demanded that nonfluoridated water be provided at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The agency took action after its union applied the EPA’s own risk-analysis method to fluoridation toxicity data.
In a May 1999 Internet release, the EPA union stated, “our opposition to drinking water fluoridation has grown, based on the scientific literature documenting the increasingly out-of-control exposures to fluoride, the lack of benefit to dental health from ingestion of fluoride, and the hazards to human health from such ingestion.”
The release also stated that continued use of fluoridated water is unjustified in view of the relative risks and benefits. For governmental and other organizations to continue endorsing fluoridation and pushing for more exposure to fluoride “is irrational and irresponsible at best,” according to the union statement.
Ninety percent of fluoridated water in the United States is treated with varieties of fluoride compounds that have not been thoroughly safety tested. Fluoridation proponents cite the safety of sodium fluoride as a fluoridating agent. Sodium fluoride was the compound originally tested and used to fluoridate water in the 1930s and 1940s. Currently, nearly all fluoridated water supplies are treated with less expensive compounds of fluosilicic acid and sodium silicofluoride.
Now, concerns about these silicofluoride compounds are being validated. A study published in the August 1999 issue of The International Journal of Environmental Studies found that children in communities that use silicofluoride compounds had significantly higher levels of lead in their blood compared with children in communities that used sodium fluoride or no fluoridation at all. Lead poisoning has been linked with higher rates of learning disabilities, hyperactivity, substance abuse, and crime.
These results support critics’ concerns that silicofluorides trigger biochemical reactions inside the body that cause increased uptake of toxic heavy metals.
Susan Haeger is president and CEO of Citizens For Health, a nonprofit, grassroots, advocacy organization based in Boulder, Colorado. Contact Citizens For Health at (800) 357-2211, or visit its website at www.citizens.org.