Americans’ distrust of societal institutions continues to grow, and now comes evidence of yet another burgeoning scandal: Fluoride-Gate. A torrent of recent bad news about the safety of fluorides has brought key names to the surface from the murky alphabet soup of players in the fluoride game at EPA, CDC, FDA, NIDCR, USDA, ADA, and AMA. The inevitable questions have begun about who knew what, when, and why was certain information kept quiet.
The first ominous drumbeats started in 2006, when a National Research Council committee recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency lower the allowable amount of fluoride in drinking water – to an unspecified level. As if that wasn’t unnerving enough, the committee specifically stated that kidney patients, diabetics, seniors, infants, and outdoor workers were susceptible populations especially vulnerable to harm from fluoride ingestion.
Centers for Disease Control officials strove mightily to dismiss NRC’s report as irrelevant, but in August of 2007 CDC’s ethics committees received a formal ethics complaint about CDC’s activities in promoting fluoridation. The complaint circled the globe via the Internet. A Kentucky attorney began assembling a list of “potentially responsible parties.” After having been contacted by angry kidney patients, in September he formally notified the National Kidney Foundation that the organization may be held liable for failure to warn its constituents that kidney patients are particularly susceptible to harm from fluorides. The issue was immediately put on the agenda of the next meeting of the foundation’s national board and the foundation’s former position statement about fluoridated water has been retracted and the issue is now undergoing review.
The ethics complaint became a hot potato. How would CDC explain why its own data showed blacks to be disproportionately harmed by moderate and severe “dental fluorosis” teeth damage, yet CDC had not felt it necessary to openly show photos of the conditions to the black community? What would be the response of CDC’s Chief of Public Health Practice, Dr. Stephanie Bailey, an African American woman who witnessed the presentation of the complaint? The complaint embarrassingly documented that Bailey had acknowledged earlier that a CDC-funded and nationally distributed public health ethics policy was not being implemented internally by CDC.