Environmental Working Group

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ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP OPPOSES FLUORIDATION

After a six-year campaign by Environmental Working Group and other public health advocates, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed that water utilities sharply reduce the amount of fluoride added to community drinking water. Three days later, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to grant a petition by EWG and two other environmental groups to end the use of sulfuryl fluoride, an insecticide and food fumigant manufactured by Dow AgroSciences.

HHS officials cited scientific research on health risks associated with excess fluoride, among them dental fluorosis (mottling and pitting of tooth enamel), bone fractures and skeletal fluorosis, a painful and sometimes crippling condition. Federal officials also acknowledged that, as EWG and its allied have long argued, millions of children are being overexposed to fluoride. According to a fact sheet posted on the Environmental Protection Agency website, new data assessing population-wide exposure to fluoride showed it was “likely that some children are exposed to too much fluoride at least occasionally.”

Some independent studies point to a possible link between fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma (bone cancer), neurotoxicity and disruption of thyroid function.

The HHS plan, announced Jan. 7, 2011 and slated to become final sometime in the spring, would advise local water utilities to limit the amount of fluoride in tap water to 0.7 milligrams per liter, 42 percent less than the department’s current recommendation of up to 1.2 milligrams per liter.

By law, EPA regulations bar more than 4 milligrams of fluoride per liter of tap water. This legally binding cap is nearly six times greater than HHS’s new recommended limit, which is strictly voluntary guidance for local utilities.At the same time HHS acted, EPA made public revised estimates of the public’s exposures to fluoride from water, food and other sources. The agency said it was conducting a full review of the 4 milligram legal cap, with an eye to lowering it, consistent with an up-to-date analysis of total fluoride consumption.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 200 million Americans – more than 72 percent of the population – drink fluoridated water.

The HHS move was closely followed by EPA’s proposal, announced Jan. 10, 2011, to phase out a fluoride-based pesticide used on dried fruit, cocoa beans and other foods. If EPA makes the plan final, many uses of the pesticide sulfuryl fluoride would stop within 90 days. A three-year phase-out period would be extended for other uses, including dried nuts and fruits and usage by direct handling facilities like flour mills.

EPA’s reversal upholds the position of EWG and two other public health advocacy groups that children’s aggregate fluoride exposures are unsafe and that any additional exposure through pesticide residues is unlawful. In 2005, EWG, the Fluoride Action Network and Beyond Pesticides filed a petition challenging the EPA’s maximum legal limits for fluoride in food. EPA had raised the limits for various foods at the request of Dow AgroSciences, which marketed sulfuryl fluoride as a post-harvest fumigant for food processing and storage facilities.

The actions by EPA and HHS represent a growing consensus that the American public is being exposed to excessive fluoride. They amount to admissions that for decades, public health agencies have erroneously reassured the public that fluoride is entirely safe. As a result, generations of children have been exposed to amounts of fluoride that could damage teeth and bones and that emerging science indicates could harm thyroid function and increase risks of bone cancer.

The Environmental Working Group supports the use of fluoride in toothpaste, where there is strong evidence of its effectiveness. But EWG’s analysis concludes that fluoridation of public water supplies should end, because the risks outweigh possible benefits, especially for infants and young children, who consume more water than adults relative to their size.

In June 2005, EWG discovered that a Harvard professor conducting a fluoridation safety study had ignored research by Dr. Elise B. Bassin that had suggested that boys who drank fluoridated water were five times more likely to develop osteosarcoma than those who drank unfluoridated water. Dr. Chester Douglass of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine – Bassin’s doctoral adviser – omitted her striking results from his final report while conducting research on fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma on grants from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences. Douglass’s claim that no relationship between fluoride and cancer had been observed, coupled with his financial relationship with fluoride toothpaste manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive, led EWG to file ethics complaints with NIEHS and Harvard. A Harvard ethics panel cleared Douglass; EWG and the Fluoride Action Network reported that he subsequently made a donation of $1 million to the Harvard dental school.

An EWG analysis of National Academy of Sciences data, released in March 2006, found that in 25 of the 28 largest U.S. cities, fluoride concentrations in tap water alone would put 8-to-36 percent of all babies up to 6 months of age over the safe dose of fluoride on any given day.

In 2007, the Municipal Water District of Los Angeles considered increasing the levels of fluoride in its drinking water. EWG objected, and the utility reversed itself.

In February 2008, EWG asked the Federal Trade Commission to stop Nursery Water, one of the nation’s biggest sellers of bottled water for infants, from advertising that its fluoridated water is safe for babies, in violation of FDA rules and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance.

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