The Battle over Portland’s Water
OPINION – August 22, 2012 — For months, there has been a behind-the-scenes, coordinated effort to fluoridate Portland’s water. It only came to light when the Oregonian broke the story August 10th that commissioner Randy Leonard was going to lead the effort. Since then, Nick Fish and Mayor Sam Adams have come out in favor of it, which points to at least a 3-2 vote in the Portland City Council to approve it. There have been reports a vote could be coming quickly, as early as the first or second week in September, but nothing is confirmed yet. When put to a public (instead of city council) vote, Portland’s electorate has turned it down three times, but the last vote was in 1980.
For most of my life, I supported fluoridation. The government had given it a green light and I accepted the commonly-held opinion of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that fluoridation prevented cavities and was demonstrated safe.
But when a few people I respected, including some physicians, raised some questions, I decided to investigate the issue. I was surprised, and chagrined, at what I found. Over the past five years, I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours researching the science, history and politics of fluoridation. Besides dozens of specific studies, my main sources have been Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards by the National
Research Council of the National Academies of Science, The Case Against Fluoride by Paul Connett et al, and The Fluoride Deception by Christopher Bryson. The National Academies are considered the gold standard of scientific inquiry, Connett is the lead nationwide scientist opposing fluoridation and Bryson is a highly-respected investigative journalist who has worked for ABC, NPR and the BBC, winning multiple awards. All three books, plus numerous other articles, including one in Scientific American, disclose an enormous amount of evidence that water fluoridation, however well-intentioned, is a serious mistake that can threaten human health.
If you don’t read any further (but I really hope you do), please understand this: There is absolutely, positively, NO consensus that fluoridation is safe for human health. On the contrary, there are numerous solid, peer-reviewed scientific studies that indicate just the opposite.
By way of background, I’m the former executive vice president (CEO) of the Oregon American Cancer Society. I worked in several management positions for ACS for 21 years. And until I retired a little over a year ago, I was the founder and director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign for Safe Food, which for over seven years addressed the human health and environmental risks of genetically engineered foods. I co-founded and facilitated the nationwide coalition opposing recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) in dairy products. I’m neither a scientist nor a physician. However, as a health agency executive, I’ve collaborated with these professionals most of my adult life and am familiar with scientific and medical concepts and methods.
I include the above paragraph because the pro-fluoridation forces often lump anyone opposing it as purely emotional anti-science kooks, John Birchers, etc. (This is exactly the same ad hominem technique Monsanto uses to brand those opposing GMO’s.) Of course, there are some people that fit the description.
But since I’ve worked on fluoridation, I’ve been impressed by the serious scholarship and research skills of physicians, scientists, lawyers and lay people who have taken the time and effort to study the issue and had the courage to speak out. What they’ve found has been enlightening – and appalling.
But let’s start with you. Most of you, understandably, haven’t given much thought to fluoridation and think it’s fine. You’re probably influenced by organizations such as the American Dental Association, American Medical Association, etc. that have endorsed the practice. Like most people, you don’t have the time and/or interest to thoroughly investigate every topic. You check out individuals and organizations you respect, see where they stand and vote/believe accordingly. We all do this.
Having worked in non-profit management of health/science/food for nearly three decades, I’ve had numerous colleagues in organizations supporting fluoridation that I’ve liked and respected. I still do.
But for those who still support fluoridation, I respectfully – and emphatically – disagree with every one of them.
Here are just a few points (there are many, many more) for you to consider:
Although many organizations and the government in the U.S. support fluoridation, there are many more entire countries that don’t want anything to do with it. Out of 196 nations in the world, only 27 have fluoridated water and only 11 have more than 50% of their
population drinking it. Most countries in Europe, for instance, have zero fluoridation. A few allow fluoridated salt to be sold, but buying this is a consumer choice, not a necessity like water. Some quotes from officials: Denmark: “We are pleased to inform you that according to the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy, toxic fluorides have never been added to the public water supplies.” France: “Fluoride chemicals are not included in the list (of chemicals for drinking water treatment). This is due to ethical as well as medical considerations.” Sweden: “Drinking water fluoridation is not allowed . . . New scientific documentation or changes in dental health situation that could alter the conclusions of the Commission have not been shown.” Luxembourg: “Fluoride has never been added to the public water supplies . . . In our views, the drinking water isn’t the suitable way for medicinal treatment . . .”
The chemicals used to fluoridate over 90% of the water in the U.S. are designated by the EPA as hazardous waste. They are by-products of manufacturing phosphate fertilizer and often contain arsenic and sometimes contain lead, both known carcinogens. There are no safe levels of arsenic or lead, no matter how diluted. If these chemicals weren’t sold to water districts, the corporations producing them would have to pay for their disposal. Neither the FDA, EPA nor the corporations producing the fluoridating chemicals assume responsibility or liability for their safety. No one does.
Then there’s the matter of IQ. The 2006 National Academy of Sciences report examined four studies from China comparing children’s IQ’s from high-fluoride and low-fluoride areas. Every one showed that fluoride lowered IQ, typically by 5-10 points. The report acknowledged some studies were stronger than others and they lacked details that would permit full evaluation. But based on the information they had, the NAS concluded “. . . the consistency of the collective results warrants additional research on the effects of fluoride on intelligence . . .”
That NAS recommendation for further research from 2006 was based on only four studies. Last month, a Harvard meta-analysis on IQ studies by Choi et al and partially funded by the National Institutes of Health was published, showing 25 out of 27 studies found the higher the fluoride, the lower the IQ in kids. In the scientists’ words, “children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low fluoride areas . . the consistency of their findings adds support to existing evidence of fluoride-associated cognitive deficits and suggests that potential
development neurotoxicity of fluoride should be a high research priority.”
The Choi study also acknowledged that most of the research studies had some weaknesses. Also, most of the studies’ test groups had higher concentrations of fluoride than what is present in U.S. fluoridated water. But when you consider there have been over 80 animal studies also indicating fluoride harms the brain, the consistency of the human and animal studies is striking and demands further investigation. With this many red flags, it’s unbelievable that we’re subjecting anyone living in a fluoridated water area to be a human test case for diminished IQ.
Fluoride added to the water is a drug, intended to produce a change in our bodies. Every drug has potential side effects. Even a relatively safe drug like aspirin can cause extreme harm to some people.
When a doctor prescribes a drug, he/she follows standard protocols for maximum safety and effectiveness. The drug has been tested and approved by the FDA and meets Current Good Manufacturing Practices, meaning it is pure. The doctor prescribes the drug to an individual. It is a specific dose and is to be taken for a defined period of time. The doctor explains the benefits, risks and potential side effects to the patient. The patient then gives informed consent to taking the drug. The doctor monitors the use and results of the drug.
Every single one of the above protocols of prescribing a drug is being violated by water fluoridation. Dr. Peter Mansfield, a physician from the UK and advisory board member of a government review of fluoridation said:
“No physician in his right senses would prescribe for a person he has never met, whose medical history he does not know, a substance which is intended to create bodily change, with the advice: ‘Take as much as you like, but you will take it for the rest of your life because some children suffer from tooth decay.’ It is a preposterous notion.”
Preposterous, indeed. When you think about what’s happening here, it becomes clear that the entire concept of adding ANY DRUG to the water supply defies common sense.
For further information on the above topics and many others, the Fluoride Action Network has an excellent website at http://www.fluoridealert.org/.
The Precautionary Principle (which the city of Portland and Multnomah County officially adopted in 2006) says that the burden of proof is on the producer of a substance to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that it meets acceptable levels of necessity and safety before introducing it. In other words, better safe than sorry. Fluoridation of water doesn’t even come close. If the Portland City Council approves fluoridation, it is in direct violation of the Precautionary Principle and a direct contradiction to its own rules.
Anyone that tells you there’s conclusive proof or a scientific consensus on the safety of water fluoridation is either sadly mistaken (most people) or in the case of certain individuals, knowingly trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
Rick North is the former CEO of the Oregon American Cancer Society (1994-99) and former Project Director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign for Safe Food (2003-2011). He retired in February 2011 to become a volunteer confronting undue corporate influence in elections and the government.