On September 12, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to fluoridate the municipal water supply. Local newspapers have created a very unbalanced public debate, publishing numerous editorials in support of fluoridation while downplaying or ignoring the concerns of pesky protestors.
TAKE BACK THE TAP! (WE DON’T WANT IT ANYMORE.)
In 2009, students at Portland State University started a program called “Take Back the Tap,” which encouraged the student body to reap the health and environmental benefits of drinking tap water. This program is responsible for all those Hydration Stations we love so much. PSU’s Take Back the Tap website asserts that Portland’s water is already “some of the world’s best.” And now we’re scheduled to alter it.
YOU HATE CHILDREN!
Fluoride supporters defend the move, mainly on the claim that it will help remedy health inequities amongst poor children. And you don’t HATE children…DO YOU?!?
(For an illustration of this public relations strategy, watch South Park’s “You Hate Children” episode.)
A lobbying group calling themselves the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition claims that Oregon is in a dental health “crisis,” and that people from lower income communities and communities of color suffer the most—and that water fluoridation is the answer. (So if you don’t support fluoridation, you not only hate children,but you’re also a racist!) Yet in 2010, Civil Rights leaders in Georgia called for an end to fluoridation in their state, saying that “fluoride can disproportionately harm poor citizens and black families.”
MAKING FUN OF LOBBYISTS
The lobbyists’ website makes three major claims:
#1 — “Fluoridating our drinking water will reduce tooth decay by at least 25%.”
Fluoride supporters regularly dismiss conflicting studies on water fluoridation by calling them “unscientific.” Here, the people dismissing the conflicting fluoride studies as unscientific are the ones who publicly misrepresent science. Any statement of certainty (i.e. “it will,” above) is not a scientific statement. (And seriously people, all science aside, common sense will tell you not to believe anyone who claims an ability to predict the future.)
#2 — “It is the safest, most effective, and affordable way to extend dental health to everyone.”
Again if you claim something is “safe and effective,” you are not using the language of science. It’s a problem of induction. There may be no evidence of harm (which isn’t the case with fluoride anyway), but only a quack scientist (or PR firm) would claim evidence of no harm.
A discussion of the safety or effectiveness of fluoride is beyond the scope of this article, though it’s important to note that numerous studies exist to challenge both. One of the most recently released studies showing negative health effects of fluoride came from researchers at Harvard and was published in one of the most respected peer-reviewed health journals. (How utterly unscientific!) In conclusion, these researchers stated:
For years health experts have been unable to agree on whether fluoride in the drinking water may be toxic to the developing human brain. Extremely high levels of fluoride are known to cause neurotoxicity in adults, and negative impacts on memory and learning have been reported in rodent studies, but little is known about the substance’s impact on children’s neurodevelopment…Based on the findings, the authors say that this risk should not be ignored, and that more research on fluoride’s impact on the developing brain is warranted. (The study was published online in Environmental Health Perspectives on July 20, 2012.)
As for affordability, water fluoridation is only affordable because municipalities do not use pharmaceutical grade fluoride, which is far too costly. Instead, they use an industrial waste product from the phosphate industry. According to investigative reporter, Christopher Bryson, “In a sweetheart deal these phosphate companies are spared the expense of disposing of this ‘fluosilicic acid’ in a toxic waste dump. Instead, the acid is sold to municipalities, shipped in rubber-lined tanker trucks to reservoirs across North America and injected into drinking water for the reduction of cavities in children.”
Keep in mind that DDT insecticide, asbestos insulation, and leaded gasoline were also once promoted as safe. Whoops! Connecting the dots, TIME magazine reported in its “The 50 Worst Inventions” series, “For nearly six decades, gasoline companies ignored the known dangers associated with lead to get rich.” And the Oregonian recently called the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition “A newly formed and hush-hush coalition of more than 50 high-profile organizations…quietly lobbying the Portland City Council.” But the Portland City Council maintains that it is deeply concerned about local tooth rot.
#3 – “It will not affect the quality of Portland’s Bull Run Water or our environment.”
Actually, the filtering of fluosilicic acid was forced by successful lawsuits against fluoride-emitting industries for serious cattle and crop damage. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that fluoride artificially introduced into drinking water has lethal effects on salmon populations in the Northwest, and potentially other species. As a result of the salmon study, researchers suggested that this information “should lead to the development of a strategy calling for a ban on fluoridation and rapid sunsetting of the practice of disposal of industrial fluoride waste into fresh water.”
Theo Colborn, senior scientist with the World Wildlife Fund-US, and one of the world’s leading authorities on environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals (such as fluoride) writes, “[F]luoride…had not been thoroughly studied before it was foisted on the public as a panacea to protect or improve health.”
And so it appears that the Portland City Council has violated its own principles with this decision. On May 11, 2006, Multnomah County and the City of Portland jointly pledged to use the precautionary principle as a guiding principle for their Toxics Reduction Strategy, a plan for minimizing toxic substances in government operations. “The Precautionary Principle takes a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach by choosing the least toxic alternative and shifting the burden of proof from the public to manufacturers and users of toxic chemicals to prove a chemical’s safety before it is released into the marketplace,” explained Workgroup co-chair and Oregon Center for Environmental Health program director, Neha Patel.
When Mayor Sam Adams now-famously said, “[T]he science is on the side of fluoridation,” he misspoke. The science is conflicting at best. What Adams should have said, had he intended to be accurate, was simply that various health and dental agencies have endorsed fluoridation—which is something altogether different. Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry at St. Lawrence University in New York spoke to a crowded hall of concerned citizens on the eve of the city council’s decision. “Endorsements are a good way to sell shoes,” he announced, “but not a good way to determine public health policy.”
And if the science is behind fluoridation, why did the EPA union (comprised of and representing the approximately 1500 scientists, lawyers, engineers and other professional employees at EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.) demand that EPA employees receive un-fluoridated water?
They reviewed the science for themselves. Their conclusion: “The implication for the general public of these calculations is clear. Recent, peer-reviewed toxicity data, when applied to EPA’s standard method for controlling risks from toxic chemicals, require an immediate halt to the use of the nation’s drinking water reservoirs as disposal sites for the toxic waste of the phosphate fertilizer industry.”
They claimed that anyone who drinks a single quart of fluoridated water from the public drinking supply receives more than 100 times the dose that a person can receive over the long term with reasonable assurance of safety from adverse effects—from that source alone. On the basis of these results the union filed a grievance, asking that EPA provide un-fluoridated drinking water to its employees.
On June 29, 2000, they also called for a moratorium on water fluoridation in a testimony before the U.S. Senate.
The EPA union went further, publicly stating, “Thus, we took the stand that a policy which makes the public water supply a vehicle for disseminating this toxic and prophylactically useless (via ingestion, at any rate) substance is wrong.”
Fact: Fluosilicic acid is corrosive and may cause fluoride poisoning in high enough doses. The city will regulate the concentration, but clearly has no means to regulate the volume of water consumed by individuals—a key variable in total dosage. (Which really sucks for people who drink lots of water—sorry, athletes!)
It’s true that virtually any substance is toxic in very high doses—water itself, for example, or vitamin C—but unlike water or vitamins, fluoride is not in any natural human metabolic pathway. In other words, it’s not meant to be incorporated into the human body and is known to disrupt vital pathways. (Evidence suggests it is an endocrine disruptor, for one.)
C’MON—EVERYBODY’S DOING IT!
Another overstated fact in defense of fluoridation is that Portland is the only major city in the US to have non-fluoridated drinking water. This type of reasoning is an error in logic known as the bandwagon fallacy. Unmasking this mistake is such simple common sense that your mother used it on you at age ten when she asked, “If everyone else were jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?”
And while the Portland is paying so much attention to what other people are doing, we must have failed to notice the other 56 municipalities in the nation that have halted water fluoridation in the last two years (since October 2010), by Dr. Connett’s count. Meanwhile, our city representatives have elected to invest millions in a project to add it. (No, your Brita filter will not remove it.)
An August 15th Oregonian poll revealed that 74% of Portlanders believe that public health decisions such as water fluoridation should be put to a vote. According to outspoken fluoridation opponent Frances Quaempts-Miller, “This isn’t about ‘Keeping Portland Weird.’ This is about democracy.”
It’s also about informed consent and the right to refuse medical treatment. If Portland fluoridates, the only way to avoid forced medication (or toxic waste, whatever you want to call it) is to buy bottled water. So much for “Take Back the Tap.” But, hey, it’ll be great business for Nestle, a company that is cutting a deal to bottle water on public land in the Columbia River Gorge and then sell it back to us. Huzzah!
Oh, and by the way: tooth decay isn’t caused by a lack of fluoride anyway. It’s caused by the combination of bacteria and sugar. As the bacteria feed on the sugars in the food you eat, they make acids, which attack the tooth enamel and result in tooth decay.
Hey, I have an idea: fluoridate the high fructose corn syrup beverages instead.
To learn more about the science behind the fluoride argument, to join the resistance, or to learn how you can sign a referendum to get water fluoridation put on the ballot for a public vote, visit www.cleanwaterportland.org/