Riding the fluoride tiger

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What possible good can come from adding a known poison to our water supply? None at all, argues John Graham

Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson announced in February that the Department of Health (DoH) would, over the next three years, make £42 million available to Strategic Health Authorities in England and Wales for new fluoridation schemes.

By presenting fluoridation as a means of preventing tooth decay, the Health Secretary confirms the practice is medication, which is carried out by water companies in violation of their customers’ human right to refuse consent to any medical intervention.

Artificial fluoridation involves increasing the fluoride level in water supplies to one part per million (ppm). Fluoride’s toxicity lies somewhere between that of lead and arsenic, and, like lead and arsenic, it’s a cumulative poison. Only half of all the fluoride we ingest is excreted. Our bodies retain the other half. It is stored, mainly in bone but also in some soft tissues, such as the pineal gland.

Naturally occurring fluoride is commonly bound to calcium and is less bioavailable than the fluoride added by water companies to treat their customers, which comes from fluorosilicic acid. The fluorosilicic acid used in the UK and Ireland is believed to originate from phosphate fertiliser operations in continental Europe. The UK Department of the Environment will not name the producers.

Worldwide, some 350 million people receive artificially fluoridated water, representing just six per cent of the global population. Of this global total, 171 million are Americans; only two per cent of Europeans receive fluorosilicic acid on tap, comprising around 5.7 million in Britain and around 2.4 million in Ireland. In addition, World Health Organization figures show that dental health has improved as much in countries without fluoridation as in those with fluoridation.

With human rights abuse on such a grand scale, surely the science supporting the practice must be of the highest quality. Not so. The early trials carried out in the US and other English-speaking countries were seriously flawed. The errors and omissions in these early trials were meticulously documented in The Greatest Fraud: Fluoridation (1996) by the late Philip RN Sutton, a statistician and Doctor of Dental Science. Sutton’s findings remain scientifically unchallenged to this day.

By the early 20th century, high levels of fluoride from natural sources were known to cause disfiguring dental fluorosis. In the US at this time, the concern was how to get natural fluoride out of the water in the few places where it could occur at up to eight parts per million.

Before World War Two, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) was one of a number of US corporations successfully sued for damage to humans, animals, crops and waterways caused by airborne fluoride pollution. One of the markers for this was dental fluorosis found in both humans and animals.

Fluoride is a byproduct of aluminimum smelting. Capturing airborne fluorides solved one problem but created another – one of waste disposal.

If the fluoride waste product could be added to drinking water on a heavily publicised premise that it benefited teeth – it would change people’s perception of fluoride, provide a market for ALCOA’s sodium fluoride waste and deflect attention away from what was causing dental fluorosis in the vicinity of fluoride-polluting industrial plants.

Behind the scenes, ALCOA played a key role in the collective march towards the first US fluoridation experiments in 1945. The US Public Health Service (PHS) declared itself in favour of adding fluoride to drinking water in 1950, a third of the way through two of the US fluoridation experiments.

The same year ALCOA placed an advert for its sodium fluoride in the ‘Journal of the American Water Works Association’. Keen to support its new big idea, the US PHS made grants totalling more than $10 million to other countries promoting fluoridation.

A new fluoridating agent emerged in the 1960s from the phosphate fertiliser industry – fluorosilicic acid, about which Rebecca Hanmer, a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator commented in 1983: ‘In regard to the use of fluosilicic [sic] acid as a source of fluoride for fluoridation, this agency regards such use as an ideal environmental solution to a long-standing problem. By recovering byproduct fluosilicic acid from fertilizer manufacturing, water and air pollution are minimized, and water utilities have a low-cost source of fluoride available to them.’

To date, no safety tests have ever been carried out on fluorosilicic acid, which is now used in most US and UK fluoridation schemes. Ten per cent of US schemes use sodium fluoride or sodium hexafluorosilicate.

In the mid-1970s, concerns about fluoridation and cancer led the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) to carry out cancer studies in rats. The results came in 1990 and showed a dose-dependent increase in osteosarcoma (bone cancer) among male rats treated with sodium fluoride. This should have been sufficient to stop artificial fluoridation, but the NTP claimed the results were ‘equivocal’.

The US Centers for Disease Control stated in 1999 that fluoride’s anti-caries effect was topical, not systemic, confirming that we do not need to ingest fluoride.

In 2000, the UK Government-funded York Review found no high-quality research to support pro-fluoridationist claims of efficacy, safety or a reduction in health inequalities. More high-quality research was called for. None has emerged from the UK to date.

Basel, the only Swiss city to fluoridate, ceased in April 2003 after Swiss scientists failed to identify one high-quality study to support fluoridation. Nevertheless, the Blair Government, in the Water Act 2003, removed water companies’ discretion to fluoridate or not, ostensibly so that communities could ‘choose’ fluoridation after ‘consultation’.

Recent guidelines from Chief Dental Officer Dr Barry Cockcroft show that such consultations will, in effect, be propaganda exercises followed by tiny opinion polls that will ask a leading question: ‘Do you think fluoride should be added to water if it can reduce tooth decay?’

The West Midlands is fluoridation’s UK flagship and its dental health is usually compared to that of Manchester. In 1997, Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands, went from 32 per cent to 100 per cent fluoridated. In the following five years to 2002, dental health spending in Wolverhampton more than doubled and the number of preventative procedures increased by 50 per cent.

Over the same period, dental health expenditure in fluoridation-targeted Manchester and Lancashire was cut. This confounder clearly invalidates comparisons between the two areas.

In the US, the 2006 Scientific Review by the National Research Council (NRC) of the EPA’s drinking water standards concluded that levels of fluoride between two and four ppm – higher than are currently proposed for the UK – were not protective of human teeth or bones.

The NRC Review Panel called upon the EPA to carry out a Health Risk Assessment to determine a new Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for fluoride. The EPA’s starting point is to find the LOAEL, or Lowest Observable Adverse Effect Level. A safety factor of at least 10 should then be applied to protect vulnerable subsets of the population, such as infants, the elderly and those with impaired kidney function.

In November 2006, The American Dental Association issued advice to its members that infant formula should not be mixed with fluoridated water. A few months later, a briefing paper drafted by British Fluoridation Society chairman Professor Michael Lennon, with DoH knowledge, issued similar advice to UK dentists.

The DoH and water companies have a duty of care towards the people of the UK, and especially to vulnerable infants. If that is the case, why hasn’t this advice been given to the near six million people being forced to drink fluorosilicic acid-dosed supplies?

With so much evidence against artificial fluoridation and none to support it, it is difficult to understand why it continues. The best explanation comes from US EPA scientist Bill Hirzy who, when interviewed in 2000 about his union’s call for a moratorium on fluoridation, said of promoters: ‘They are riding a tiger and can’t get off.’

We may need to look to the courts for a tranquiliser dart.

John Graham is an Executive Member for the National Pure Water Association. See www.npwa.org.uk for more details

This article first appeared in the Ecologist April 2008