Home Science & Technology SCIENCE! Drink the Water, Not the Kool Aid: Anchorage Talks Fluoride

Drink the Water, Not the Kool Aid: Anchorage Talks Fluoride

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There’s an oncoming storm sweeping across the political landscape, and tonight it will make landfall in Anchorage, Alaska.

It’s an issue that bridges traditional divides of left and right, leaving most of us stuck in the middle scratching our heads going “Whuuuh?” This issue, which will define a generation, is a populist movement against our greatest and most unknown and unseen enemy. It’s a secret war against the villainous threat, of…

*queue dramatic music*

flouride

…fluoridation.

But what is fluoridation? Where does it come from? What the heck does it actually do? Why does it garner such strong opposition from the hippies to the doomsday preppers?

Fluoride in Alaska

Fluoride, as it is used in water treatment, is a substance derived from fluorite, which is a naturally occurring mineral. According to the Alaska Resource Data File of the U.S. Geological Survey, in Alaska there are 109 known deposits of fluorite. Eight have been actively mined sites at some point, 58 have been observed in prospected claim sites, and 43 have been observed occurring. A large clustering of fluorite occurs in Southeast Alaska, particularly around Petersburg. There have also been several sites located in the Talkeetna Mountains and in the Philip Smith Mountains, which are part of the Brooks Mountain Range.

Fluorite is common in Alaska because it is associated with granite and limestone formations in areas of high geothermal activity. It’s so common in the Juneau and Fairbanks watersheds that those cities don’t artificially fluoridate the water; it leeches from the rocks and soil into the streams that make up the city water supply. Sitka has a mixture of natural and additive amounts. Anchorage is the only large populated area that artificially fluoridates its water. Now the municipality is opening up discussion on whether it should continue that operation. Being the good scientist that I try to be, I decided to consult the data about the potential benefits and drawbacks of fluoridated water.

Pros and Cons

One thing that I find interesting about science is that it can be (and is) used by opposing sides of an argument to support respective claims. There is no shortage of science demonstrating that low concentrations of fluoride in water are good for teeth, particularly in children. However, the counter studies are usually poorly constructed and incredibly selective in their review of literature.

Unfortunately a lot of the studies supporting fluoride use are over 50 years old and don’t control for other variables like diet, other sources of fluoride, or socio-economic status. Only one study that I found showed that the number of decayed, missing, or filled (DMF) teeth that occur in children is more common in low socio-economic status (SES) families. The older studies also consider simple sodium fluoride as the additive of choice, while most water supplies currently use silicofluorides for water fluoridation. There doesn’t appear to be as much conclusive work on what the potential health impacts might be between the two additives.

One of the most referred to papers on the dangers of silicofluoride looks at the effects it has on absorption of lead in the blood. The study by Masters and Coplan received several rebuttals that focused on a lack of transparency in methods and analysis. The paper failed to prove a biochemical relationship between silicofluoride and lead, and simply looked at correlation with no respect to causation or even rate of exposure to lead.

Other studies that try to correlate fluoride to cancer have also been thoroughly debunked for similar reasons. Additionally, conspiracy theorists like to point to a Meta study (or a study of studies) that links fluoride to loss of IQ. The biggest problem with using IQ as an outcome is that it is inherently subjective and culturally rooted; no one can agree on what IQ is, let alone how to measure it. Another major issue with this study is that it was conducted in China, where fluoride concentrations can already be incredibly high in very specific watersheds. These concentrations are not comparable to the 1 part per million standard in the U.S. Similarly, toxicity studies on lab rats involve dosages 20 to 80 times that of what we are generally exposed to.

While I believe that science supports the benefits of fluoride more than it does the potential harm, I think the ultimate question on its use is one rooted in ethics. Does the government have the right to mass medicate the populace for the good of the poor children? Can such a highly technical process be carried out safely and effectively? What are the safeguards, the checks and balances, which oversee such a process? What is our emergency response plan should something go wrong? How often are we within tolerances? Are people properly educated on ALL the sources of fluoride that they are exposed to on a daily basis? These are all legitimate policy concerns that should be hashed out transparently and with public participation.

There are serious health concerns related to exposure to super high concentrations of fluoride, and water isn’t our only source. Tea naturally contains fluoride. It’s also a common ingredient in most brands of toothpaste. One of the most dangerous sources of overexposure comes from powdered baby formula. These powdered formulas already include high amounts of fluoride, important for initial development of bones, and reconstituting them with fluoridated water can expose babies to higher than recommended doses.

Whether or not these concerns will enter the discussion remains to be seen. Much of the debate that is coming to Anchorage stems from an accident at Hooper Bay. That particular case left 300 people sick in the surrounding rural communities. The underlying problem with having this conversation is that it often gets hijacked by conspiracy theorists that tend to oversimplify and over exaggerate.

Conspiracy theory sites like Infowars tend to be self aggrandizing, relying heavily on their own prior works to support their claims or links to similar sites that do the same. When they do reference outside, peer reviewed, scholarly works, they cherry pick studies and even sentences that support their assertions while ignoring the broader context of the study and the research literature. Such practices are misleading and not conducive to discovering the whole truth.

Hopefully the oncoming storm of the great fluoride debate will avoid these pitfalls. Citizens have a right to understand and know what is being pumped into their water and their bodies, and the Municipality has a responsibility to facilitate that discussion in a fair and truthful manner.

James Shewmake was the science and nerd culture columnist for the Alaska Commons. He also provided photojournalism and general editorial content for the site. He was the 2nd place finalist for the 2013 Alaska Press Club Leslie Ann Murray Award for his editorial piece on science and religion. James holds a Master’s of Science degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Alaska - Fairbanks. When he is not working on content for the Commons, he is usually dedicating himself to research on subsistence fisheries, time travel, and/or the establishment of a new Galactic Empire.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I know how well the government handles my mail, they have “moved” me several times in the last 10 years, and their handling of my taxes is not exactly to my liking, the discussion of allowing the government to manage my health care could go on long into the night. The concept of proactive health care by the government, giving us injections to combat smallpox and other diseases was sold to the public quite easily after the initial success of the Polio vaccine and protecting the poor kids that couldn’t get proper dental care was just a common sense idea in the innocent days of Apple Pie and Drive Ins, but now we know a little more about how badly our own government can screw up when they are trying to do good and how badly they screw up when they know they are doing wrong and try and hide it. I’ll take my chances on my well water, hold the additives, please.

  2. The truth is somewhere in between – not necessarily in the middle. Of all the threats to my security, my freedom, my ability to live my life the way I choose – this one is way down on my radar.

  3. Fluoridation began in 1945 when it was believed that fluoride was not only an essential nutrient but that ingesting fluoride was the magic bullet to all but eradicate tooth decay. Modern science proved those early researchers were well-intended; but wrong. Fluoride is neither a nutrient nor essential for healthy teeth. Consuming a fluoride-free diet does not cause tooth decay; but consuming fluoride can lead to adverse health or tooth effects such as dental fluorosis (discolored teeth) which the CDC now reports afflicts up to 60% of adolescents but 51% of them still have tooth decay.

    Rotten diets make rotten teeth and no amount of fluoride will change that.

    Despite 68 years of fluoridation, 58 years of fluoridated toothpaste, a glut of fluoridated dental products which have created multi-billion dollar international corporations profiting from the increase in tooth decay. Yet, the US is faced with a dental health crisis because most dentists prefer to treat the water of and not the teeth of low income people. http://www.FluorideNews.Blogspot.com

    As a result our hospital emergency rooms are flooded with Americans in dental pain that are similar to that seen in third world countries.

    A new study reports that The number of hospitalizations attributed to dental abscesses increased by 41%, from 5,575 in 2000 to 8,141 in 2008.

    The burden on Medicaid to pay for discharges related to dental abscesses has jumped 74%

    Of the 61,439 hospitalizations, they found that even though most US urban areas are fluoridated, 84% of the hospitalizations occurred in urban areas.

    Even though southern states are the most highly fluoridated, regionally, 39% occurred in the South, 20% in the Northeast, 24% in the Midwest, and 17% in the West (the least fluoridated states).

    66 patients died while in the hospital.

  4. Men of science have spoken passionately against fluoride and fluoridation. Phillipe Grandjean has remarked on the lack of good studies on fluoride’s affect on the brain. (though we’ve been putting it in the water for 60 years) Dean Burk called it public murder on a grand scale after heading a department at the American Cancer society and studying and working there for 34 years on groundbreaking lifesaving research. Aarvid Caarlson winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in medicine advised the government of Sweden and recommends pharmacologically active substances not be added to the environment. nor medication given to the public instead of the individual. He called it obsolete. Toxic waste should not be diluted then dumped into the ground and the waterways (through mopping sprinklers, toilets, baths, and washing) and it certainly shouldn’t be used to grow food, prepare food, be in most beverages and in one of life’s necessities. Most of the world has stopped doing this. The United States is far lower on the list of countries when arranged by lifespan. More people get fluoridated water in the United States than the rest of the world combined. It may be good for teeth at 1-3mg per day, but the dosage you get is probably higher. It affects the thyroid, the pineal, the brain, the kidneys, and the bones. Studies related to these organs at dosages common after fluoridation do not exist. That is why you are told so frequently that fluoridation is safe. Why are there no studies of this nature after 68 years of fluoridation? This is about more than just teeth. Men of science speak against this, but to find anything for it one must turn to agencies, organizations, and bureaucracies.

    There is fluoride in most food:
    from the USDA http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/Fluoride/F02.pdf

    While daily intake of 1–3 mg of fluoride prevents dental caries, long-term exposure to higher amounts may have deleterious effects on tooth enamel and bone. from the world health organization. http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/123075/AQG2ndEd_6_5Fluorides.PDF

    “according to clinical research, the fluoride dose capable of reducing thyroid function was notably low-just 2-5 mg per day over several months” (Galetti & Joyce 1958) “this dose is well within the range (1.6 to 6.6 mg/day) of what individuals living in fluoridated communities are now estimated to receive on a daily basis.”

    But don’t take my word for it. Read it yourself. It’s out there. If you are only skeptical about that which you are uncertain you are not using skepticism properly. Take out your beliefs and give them an airing out on occasion.

    • I really had no opinion on the matter before writing this piece, and I spent a great deal of time reviewing the peer reviewed journal articles. I don’t feel like it’s as cut and dry as people on either side would like to think, because there’s a lot of contradictory evidence supporting both. The facts and interpretations cover a wide variety of assessments, which is why I brought up the ethical argument. I think that people have a right to know what’s going into their water and their bodies, and it should be based on good information. Unfortunately there are lots of people out there who try to boil it down in such a simplistic way that it loses a lot of context.

      For Alaska, the reality is that we already have it in most of our watersheds, Anchorage is apparently a rare exception, at least based on what information I could find. After digging through all of the research I don’t think it’s a huge issue, at least in the grand scheme of things, but I would like to know that the city has control over the process and that there are response plans in place.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Yet another example is dermal absorption. We bathe, shower, and swim in fluoridated water yet there are no studies in regards to how much more intake there is through the skin. The shower is an absorption chamber as you breathe in the steam and have it poured on you. Many things are absorbed in greater quantity through the skin than through consumption. Ninety-five percent of the world has abandoned this method of distribution for many compelling reasons.

  5. As a former city councilwoman, I was instrumental in investigating my constituents complaints about the harmfulness of water fluoridation. As a result I helped in getting an initiative to the ballot and we successfully voted in a moratorium on Nov 6, ’12 to turn off the toxic industrial waste fluoride (HYDROFLUSOLICIC ACID OR HFSA) because our supplier UNIVAR, (formerly Basic Chemical Solutions) would not provide three things:

    1.) Toxicological report

    2.) Listing of contaminants

    3.) Proof that their product was safe for all water consumers, infants to seniors.

    This absurd practice of adding HFSA is based more on politics than science. Why should a water department be given the power to medicate anyone when they don’t take a health history, they don’t pass out a listing of side effects or monitor the dose. This is tantamount to gross negligence. Water consumers started to send in their payment UNDER PROTEST so that when the class action lawsuits begin they would be covered.

    After adding water fluoridation for 44 years, our town had 70% cavities in our children’s teeth,(this figure was quoted from Dr. Susan Wellman, dentist who is pro-fluoride) high obesity rates and low test scores. Hardly an endorsement for continuing this unethical practice. We were also ranked 34th in the nation for cancer while Brookings, Oregon….. just 25 minutes north of us…. was ranked 765th in the nation for cancer for the same time period and Bookings never fluoridated their water.

    We have high rates of not only cancer, but thyroid, diabetes and kidney disease all with links to HFSA. One constituent ended up in ER with seizures after showering for 10 minutes. Her doctor has subsequently written a letter describing her allergic reaction to water fluoridation. She was on a medication which contained fluoride and that in combination with absorbing this poison transdermaly by showering put her in the Emergency Room.

    New Hampshire Governor Lynch signed into law on Aug 4, 2012 infant warnings concerning mixing fluoridated water with formula because of the high prevalence of fluorosis. Fluorosis is the first visible sign of fluoride poisoning. Our Environmental Protection Agency announced in early 2011 that 41% of our nations teenagers had fluorosis and recommended cutting the parts per million down to .7. Our city council reduced the ppm from 1.2 to .7. That was a step in the right direction but not nearly enough because our EPA is doing nothing to really test or protect the public from this toxic industrial waste product. The only safe level when considering the addition of HFSA to drinking/bathing water is ZERO.

    The State of Kansas, has successfully entered House Bill 2372 on January 18, 2013 listing the harm of water fluoridation. If passed, Kansas will become the first fluoride-free state in the United States.

    If you happen to call the NSF (which is not a government agency) and ask them questions about the testing they do on HFSA, they will tell you that they won’t provide that information because of non-disclosure agreements. If you call the manufacturer, distributor or supplier, they will not provide information about the 3 requested docs listed in my opening paragraph above as I already did that back in 2011. I sent out over 40 letters and got zero responses.

    I predict that water fluoridation will become one of the biggest frauds and scams ever perpetrated against the public in the 20th and 21st century. That phrase often quoted by the CDC as being one of the best things since sliced bread was made up by a Public Relations guy. It’s time to stop quoting that drivel. Water fluoridation will be compared to Tobacco science, DDT science, Asbestos science, Thalidomide science, etc.

    It is my opinion based on the research I’ve done which has been extensive these last 5 years, that it’s all about the money. Some brilliant schemers came up with this idea to get rid of toxic industrial waste by saying it was good for children’s teeth. That’s a bunch of baloney. It’s good for the bank accounts of the producers of HFSA because if they had to get rid of their toxic industrial waste legally, it would cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead they dupe the politicians with fraudulent science and endorsements which is not science and sell them a product in which humans are utilized to filter this poison through their bodies while 99% goes down the drain. The dumb politicians buy it hook, line and sinker and shut their brains down. They become incapable of independent thought as I witnessed first hand with my fellow council members and other councils I’ve visited. But the HFSA manufacturers, suppliers and distributors are laughing all the way to the bank because they’ve got these municipalities paying them for poison. Plus, I checked out our retirement accounts and lo and behold, the MOSAIC company is one of the funds city employees can invest their retirement money in. Again, as I said, brilliant scheme from start to finish. I just hope to see the day that some of them end up in prison.

    But here’s the part they don’t tell you. In 2011, our city finished a $43.8 million upgrade/expansion on our waste water treatment plant with state-of-the-art technology that utilizes MBR or Membrane Bio-Reactor technology. When I asked our Public Works Director if this gets the fluoride out of the water, he replied, “NO.” So this poison is going into our Pacific Ocean.

    Poison the public. Poison the oceans. Poison the food and beverages. Because of that, we are all already over-fluoridated.

    Please do your homework.

    Respectfully,

    Donna A. Westfall

    Crescent City, Calif.95531

  6. One the one hand there are a small number of outraged opposing anti-fluoridation activists whose only “education” is their Internet browser and on the other are many thousands of dental, medical and public health professionals and experts who have dedicated their lives to scientific study who believe fluoridation is beneficial, safe and affordable

    The overwhelming support for fluoridation is made very clear by the list of 100+ prestigious professional and scientific organization which recognize the importance of community water fluoridation to better oral health.

    Anchorage citizens can see what America’s pediatricians, family physicians, public health scientists and other say in their own words at:

    http://www.ilikemyteeth.org/fluoridation/respected-organizations/

    As postings here well illustrate, opponents want citizens to believe with them that fluoridation is some evil scheme to poison the drinking water.

    To believe such crackpottery one must believe that state and federal health agencies are hiding the truth and helping to poison more than 200 million citizens, making children less intelligent and killing little boys. According to them this conspiracy is aided by the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and about 100 other professional and scientific organizations.

    Fluoridation deserves and receives such wide scientific and professional support because it simply prevents cavities.

    • Worldwide water fluoridation is considered obsolete.

      Luxembourg: “drinking water isn’t the suitable way for medicinal treatment. . . people needing an addition of fluoride can decide by their own to use the most appropriate way, like the intake of fluoride tablets”

      Sweden: “Drinking water fluoridation is not allowed in Sweden due to repeal in 1971 of the Drinking Water Fluoridation Act issued in 1962. . . . New scientific documentation or changes in the dental health situation that could alter the conclusions of the commission have not been shown.”

      Norway: “we had a rather intense discussion on this subject some 20 years ago, and the conclusion was that drinking water should not be fluoridated. It was therefore up to each individual to decide whether to use fluoride tablets, toothpaste or mouthwash.”

      Finland: has no fluoridation because “there are better ways of providing the fluoride our teeth need.”
      The Finnish Dentists’ Association recommends the use of fluoride pills.

      Japan: “there is no need to supply fluoridated water to ALL users because (1) the impacts of fluoridated water on human health depends on each human being so that inappropriate application may cause health problems of vulnerable people, and (2) there is [sic] other ways for the purpose of dental health care, such as direct F-coating on teeth and using fluoridated dental paste and these ways should
      be applied at one’s free will.”

      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.” (Louis Sanchez, Directeur de la Protection de l’Environment, August25, 2000). France does have fluoridated salt as a choice.

      Czech Republic: Stopped fluoridation in 1989 because it was (1) uneconomical since “only 0.54% of water suitable for drinking water is used as such,” (2) “unecological,” (3) “unethical (forced medication),” (4) it “disregards actual individual intake and requirements”.

      India: Rather than putting fluoride into the water, India is removing “the fluoride that pollutes the water naturally. . .we know that fluoride is injurious to health.” Furthermore, it is mandated that toothpaste cartons indicate the fluoride content and state that “children below 4 years of age should not use fluoridated toothpaste as fluoride is injurious to health.” India has a problem with fluorosis in 17 of the 32 states leading the government to recommend that individuals not use fluoridated toothpaste.

      Germany: stopped all fluoridation and provided the most extensive reasons for that action via a position statement issued by the DVGW (German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water).
      As the letter indicated, “The information is dated 1992, but we still fully agree with this statement.”
      The DVGW sets technical standards that are used in the operation of water systems in Germany and the European Union. The following are quotes from the DVGW position statement.
      (1) “It is not the task of water supply companies to add substances to drinking water intended as prophylactics against illness not caused by drinking water.”
      (2) “Caries is not the manifestation of fluoride deficiency, but is the result of a generally false nutrition and inefficient dental hygiene. Unwholesome habits resulting in caries are not eliminated by the fluoridation of drinking water; on the contrary, they are promoted.”
      (3) “The suggested optimal fluoride concentration of 1 mg per litre is very close to the dose with which long term detrimental effects in people cannot be excluded. . . the limit value in drinking water cannot be justified in view of different habits and therefore differing consumption of drinking water and the uncontrolled intake of fluorides from other sources. The safety of a lifelong accumulation of fluoride in the human body as a result of increased intake is disputed in medical science throughout the world.”
      (4) “More than 99 per cent [of fluoride contained in drinking water] would be discharged with waste water directly into the environment. This additional fluoride emission into waters is unacceptable for ecological reasons.”
      (5) “The consumer cannot avoid fluoridated drinking water made available by public water supply. This mandatory intake of fluoride violates the basic right to bodily freedom from injury . . . provided by the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.”
      (6) “Fluoride intake for the prevention of caries is more effective with specific measures taken by the individual than by fluoridation of drinking water.”
      (7) “An assessment of risks vs. benefits involving both the health aspects and ecological consequences justifies DVGW’s rejection of the fluoridation of drinking water.”

  7. Europe’s relationship to fluoride is complex. If anyone is interested, a very thorough and detailed analysis of fluoride in Switzerland is available.

    see: http://www.sso.ch/doc/doc_download.cfm?uuid=BFC72B80B1408D4053BBBB937D37EABD

    About half of the remarkable decline in cavities there is ascribed to oral fluoride.

    Roughly 80% of the children studied consume fluoridated salt. Most agree that salt fluoridation has equivalent efficacy as public water fluoridation. This degree of fluoride intake is significantly higher than the US.

    Salt fluoridation in much of Europe is a more reasonable way to fluoridate a population because water systems are more fragmented and often ancient. Also, consumption of bottled water, which in Europe is labeled as containing fluoride, is very common.

    Scandinavian oral public health researchers warn that their experiences are in countries which are not culturally diverse, where prepaid dental care is available to everyone and where the population can be relied upon to follow professional advice. For example: ” In societies with well-attended, community-based, free dental health care for children and youths, the dental motivation of individuals is, in general, very high and the use of fluoride for caries prevention may be taken care of at the individual level.” – Forss (1999)

    None of these stipulations are characteristic of Americans.

    Europe’s experience is poor reason to abandon water fluoridation. This is especially so given the compelling data on its benefits in North America.

    For the sake of all citizen’s health, especially the children’s, one is very thankful for Anchorage’s decision to join with the majority of Americans drinking fluoridated water

    • For the sake of children’s health this pervasive method of distribution should be abandoned as most of the civilized world has abandoned it. Children’s rate of dermal absorption is higher than that of adults. Fluoride is a developmental neurotoxin so the level of intake should be carefully monitored. I cannot find any studies at all on dermal absorption of fluoride. Total intake level is important. If children drink fluoride, brush their teeth with fluoride (absorption rate in the mouth is 90%), bathe in fluoride, and eat fluoride (it is in almost all food) what is their intake level, and how does that affect their developing brain? Children are smaller than adults and their dosage requirements are different. When it is in the water it is everywhere.

        • How about even one reference. We have 68 years of data from large population application. Systematic review after systematic review has deemed fluoridation beneficial and safe.

          I suppose because you can think of a potential harm over a beer on a Saturday night is all the is necessary to call for fluoridation’s end. If the research hasn’t been done in 68 plus years it is overwhelmingly likely that the biological probability is so low that those determining research priorities don’t think it important.

          It is a characteristic of paranoid conspiracy theories that ALWAYS some undone study can be proposed as a reason to justify the mistaken beliefs.

          If transdermal fluoride absorption were a problem surely mankind would have noticed given the world-wide exposure to ocean water with about twice as much fluoride as the 0.7 ppm target of optimized fluoridation.

  8. I see Billy ASTROTURFER Budd has joined the conversation with his “compelling” erroneous data. Guess he didn’t hear about Israel stoppng all fluoridation in 2014. Guess he doesn’t read the dangers to infants, children, teens, adults and seniors from drinking toxic industrial waste HFSA fluoride. Guess he ignores the osteoscarcoma that develops in some
    children and the tragedy of watching them die of this rare bone disease in their teens like one 17 year old did in our little town.
    .

    • We appreciate your feedback, Donna. However, please refrain from namecalling if you wish to continue to be part of the conversation. For clarification on our commenting policy, click here.

  9. Bro! Alex Jones and Infowars write a lot of stuff about this, and I haven’t seen them get anything wrong before. In this article, http://www.infowars.com/israel-court-rules-to-stop-water-fluoridation-in-2014-due-to-health-concerns/ they were so passionate about it that they didn’t even have the time to put an “l” at the end of Israel in the third paragraph! That is super serious! These folks dedicate their lives to keeping people like you and me safe from the butt-holes at the United Nations! I wish that you would take some time to read their articles! We could all learn a lot from these people.

What do you think?