By Gary Null, PhD, and Martin Feldman, MD
In Parts 1 and 2 of this three-part series, we discussed a number of problems surrounding the use of water fluoridation, including questions about its effectiveness in reducing dental decay, the thin margin of safety that exists for fluoride and the exposure we face to fluoride from multiple sources. We also reviewed studies showing that water fluoridation and fluoride exposure are associated with disorders such as dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis, bone fractures and suboptimal thyroid functioning.
In this third and final installment, we discuss another potential problem posed by the fluoridation process—accidents in treatment plants that can lead to fluoride poisoning. We also look at certain steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of a fluoride overdose, one city’s rejection of the fluoridation process, and the difficulties involved in challenging such a long-used practice as water fluoridation, which has been supported by the U.S. government and the American Dental Association for many decades.
Over the years, a number of fluoride accidents have occurred at water facilities. In some cases, excess fluoride has permeated the water supply and sickened or killed people. The Fluoride Action Network, which operates the Web site www.fluoridealert.org, has compiled information on a handful of fluoride accidents that occurred in recent years. They include:
* June 2002 – Dublin, California. Employees of a local business became sick when they drank over-fluoridated water. Samples of water from the business had fluoride concentrations of 250 ppm (the required level is 1 ppm to 2 ppm). The incident made 23 people sick, and the fluoride-pumping system was temporarily shut down pending an investigation.
* February 2001 – Fort Wayne, Indiana. About 6,000 gallons of hydrofluorosilicic acid, the substance used to add fluoride to public drinking water, spilled from the Three Rivers Water Filtration Plant into a sewer. Fumes from the acid caused headaches and respiratory problems in plant employees. Officials said the water supply was not threatened by the spill.
* October 2000 – Coos Bay, Oregon. A tank holding the highly acidic fluoride added to drinking water overflowed at a water treatment plant. Four hundred gallons of the chemical flowed into a floor drain and reached a nearby sewage treatment plant, where it killed off microorganisms used in the sewage treatment process. Some 3.5 million gallons of the partially treated sewage were then dumped into Coos Bay.
* July 2000 – Wakefield, Massachusetts. An overdose of fluoride was accidentally released into the water supply, bringing the levels of fluoride in the water to 23 milligrams per liter. The limit set by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection is 4 mpl.
In addition to these reports, the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients published a comprehensive summary of fluoride accidents between 1979 and 1993 in its October 1994 issue. We list some of those incidents here:
- July 1993 – Chicago, Illinois. Three dialysis patients died and five experienced toxic reactions to fluoridated water used in the treatment process. The CDC was asked to investigate, but to date there have been no press releases.
- May 1993 – Kodiak, Alaska (Old Harbor). The population was warned not to consume water due to its high fluoride levels. They were also cautioned against boiling the water, since this concentrates the substance and worsens the danger. Although equipment appeared to be functioning normally, 22 to 24 ppm of fluoride was found in a sample.
- July 1992 – Marin County, California. A pump malfunction allowed too much fluoride into the Bon Tempe treatment plant. Two million gallons of fluoridated water were diverted to Phoenix Lake, elevating the lake surface by more than two inches and forcing some water over the spillway.
- December 1991 – Benton Harbor, Michigan. A faulty pump allowed approximately 900 gallons of hydrofluosilicic acid to leak into a chemical storage building at the water plant. City engineer Roland Klockow stated, “The concentrated hydrofluosilicic acid was so corrosive that it ate through more than two inches of concrete in the storage building.” This water did not reach consumers, but fluoridation was stopped until June 1993. The original equipment was only two years old.
- July 1991 – Porgate, Michigan. After a fluoride injector pump failed, fluoride levels reached 92 ppm and resulted in approximately 40 children developing abdominal pains, sickness, vomiting and diarrhea at a school arts and crafts show.
- November 1979 – Annapolis, Maryland. One patient died and eight became ill after receiving renal dialysis treatment. Symptoms included cardiac arrest (resuscitated), hypotension, chest pain, difficulty breathing and a gamut of intestinal problems. Patients not on dialysis also reported nausea, headaches, cramps, diarrhea and dizziness. The fluoride level was later found to be 35 ppm; the problem was traced to a valve at a water plant that had been left open all night.
The authors note that the wife of a dialysis patient who became brain-injured as the result of fluoride poisoning sued the city of Annapolis for $480 million. The case was settled out of court in 1985.
In his new book Fluoride: Drinking Ourselves to Death?, Barry Groves suggests that people take a number of steps to reduce their risk of a fluoride overdose. In addition to avoiding areas that fluoridate water, his advice includes the following:
- Avoid toothpaste that contains fluoride.
- Avoid apple and grape juice because the fruits are commonly treated with high-fluoride pesticides. In addition, peel apples and grapes before eating them.
- Do not use aluminum cookware if you live in a fluoridated area, and avoid non-stick kitchenware such as Teflon and Tefal because they are made of fluoride. (These coatings are usually applied to aluminum pans, which significantly raises the risk of overdose.)
- Drink tea with milk. Tea contains 4.4 to 12 ppm fluoride, but the calcium in milk will mitigate its effects.
Another way to avoid fluoride is to use a fluoride filter on your tap water. Relatively effective fluoride filters are available today, most of which must be installed in tandem with and in addition to more general carbon-blocking water filters.
Challenging an entrenched practice
Paul Connett, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University (N.Y.) who helped found the Fluoride Action Network, says that government agencies are not looking at issues such as the effect of fluoride on thyroid hormones, the pineal gland and bone fractures in children or looking very carefully at hip fracture rates. “I think they’re worried about loss of face, loss of credibility,” Dr. Connett says.
He further suggests that U.S. fluoridation policy has helped deflect attention from two problems: One is that the major causes of tooth decay are the consumption of too much sugar and insufficient brushing between meals. The second problem is the poor dental care provided to people who are below the poverty line and cannot afford dental services. While the U.S. Surgeon General says we must fluoridate water because it is equitable—going to rich, middle-income and poor people alike—the reality is that poor people are the ones who cannot afford to avoid fluoridated water by buying bottled water, distillation equipment or fluoride filters, Dr. Connett says. He points out that a bill being considered by the U.S. Senate (S.1626) would put more taxpayer dollars into fluoridation. This bill, the Children’s Dental Health Improvement Act of 2001, is intended to provide disadvantaged children with access to dental services and improve their oral health.
Another issue is that fluoride could be disposed of legally only at a great cost to industry. Dr. William Marcus, a senior science advisor in the EPA’s Office of Drinking Water, explains, “There are prescribed methods for disposal and they’re very expensive. Fluoride is a very potent poison. It’s a registered pesticide, used for killing rats or mice…. If it were to be disposed of, it would require a class-one landfill. That would cost the people who are producing aluminum or fertilizer [thousands of dollars per] truckload to dispose of it. It’s highly corrosive.”
The U.S. judicial system, even when convinced of the dangers, is powerless to change policy. The late Dr. John Yiamouyiannis was involved in court cases in Pennsylvania and Texas in which the judges, while convinced that fluoride was a health hazard, did not have the jurisdiction to grant relief from fluoridation. That would require a legislative process, it was ultimately found. Interestingly, the judiciary seems to have more power to effect change in other countries. When Dr. Yiamouyiannis presented the same technical evidence in Scotland, the Scottish court outlawed fluoridation based on the evidence. Indeed, most of western Europe has rejected fluoridation on the grounds that it is unsafe.
One city’s rejection of fluoride
There is some evidence of sanity in the fluoridation debate. The Fluoride Action Network lists more than 100 municipalities in the United States and Canada that have rejected or discontinued fluoride since 1990.
One such city is Natick, Massachusetts. In 1997 the Natick Fluoridation Study Committee submitted a comprehensive report to the Town and the Board of Selectmen that overwhelmingly recommended the rejection of fluoridation of the town’s water. The committee consisted of scientists, academics and citizens of the town of Natick. It summarized its findings as follows:
- Recent studies of the incidence of cavities in children show little to no difference between fluoridated and nonfluoridated communities.
- Ten to thirty percent (10%-30%) of Natick’s children will have very mild to mild dental fluorosis if Natick fluoridates its water (up from probably 6% now). Approximately 1% of Natick’s children will have moderate or severe dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis can cause great concern for the affected family and may result in additional dental bills. It should not be dismissed as a “cosmetic” effect.
- Fluoride adversely effects the central nervous system, causing behavioral changes and cognitive deficits. These effects are observed at fluoride doses that some people in the U.S. actually receive.
- There is good evidence that fluoride is a developmental neurotoxicant, meaning it affects the nervous system of the developing fetus at doses that are not toxic to the mother. The developmental neurotoxicity would manifest as lower IQ and behavioral changes.
- Water fluoridation shows a positive correlation with increased hip fracture rates in persons 65 years of age and older, based on two recent epidemiology studies.
- Some adults are hypersensitive to even small quantities of fluoride, including that contained in fluoridated water. At least one such person is a Natick resident.
- The impact of fluoride on human reproduction at the levels received from environmental exposures is a serious concern. A recent epidemiology study shows a correlation between decreasing annual fertility rate in humans and increasing levels of fluoride in drinking water.
- Animal bioassays suggest that fluoride is a carcinogen, especially for tissues such as bone (osteosarcoma) and liver. The potential for carcinogenicity is supported by fluoride’s genotoxicity and pharmacokinetic properties….
- Fluoride inhibits or otherwise alters the actions of a long list of enzymes important to metabolism, growth and cell regulation.
- Sodium fluorosilicate and fluorosilicic acid, the two chemicals Natick intends to use to fluoridate the water supply, have been associated with increased concentrations of lead in tap water and increased blood lead levels in children, based on case reports….
- If Natick fluoridates its water supply at the proposed level, most children under the age of three will daily receive more fluoride than is recommended for them.
The scientific literature supporting these findings is summarized in the committee’s full report, which also discusses a variety of non-health-related concerns that have been raised about water fluoridation. The committee reached the firm conclusion that the risks of overexposure to fluoride far outweigh any current benefit of fluoridation, stating:
- The Natick Fluoridation Study Committee unanimously and emphatically recommends that the town of Natick NOT fluoridate the town water supply.
- The Natick Fluoridation Study Committee unanimously and emphatically recommends that the Board of Selectmen take appropriate action to ensure that fluoridation of the town water supply does not take place.
As noted, Natick is not an isolated case. One town that recently voted to discontinue fluoridation is Bishopville, South Carolina. In addition, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, decided not to begin a proposed fluoridation program. “The citizens of Eureka Springs don’t want to be medicated against their will,” Mayor Beau Satori said. “They just want fine-tasting water.”
Taking a stand
Isn’t it time all of the United States followed this example? While the answer is obvious, it is also apparent that government policy is unlikely to change without public support. Consumers must communicate with legislators and insist on one of our most precious resources—pure, unadulterated drinking water. Dr. Yiamouyiannis urged all American people to do so, emphasizing the immediacy of the problem:
“There is no question with regard to fluoridation of public water supplies. It is absolutely unsafe…and should be stopped immediately. This is causing more destruction to human health than any other single substance added purposely or inadvertently to the water supply. We’re talking about 35,000 excess deaths a year…130 million people who are being chronically poisoned. We’re not talking about dropping dead after drinking a glass of fluoridated water…. It takes its toll on human health and life, glass after glass.”
Dr. William Hirzy, senior vice president of the union that represents the scientists and other professional employees who work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, points to the absurdity of government policy on fluoride. The phosphate fertilizer industry captures hydrofluosilicic acid and uses what would otherwise be an air or water pollutant as a low-cost source of fluoride for water authorities. Because the substance is added to the public drinking water system, it magically becomes beneficial to dental health.
There are two moral issues in the debate that have largely escaped notice. The first is that, as columnist James Kilpatrick observes, it is “the right of each person to control the drugs he or she takes.” Kilpatrick calls fluoridation compulsory mass medication, a procedure that violates the principles of medical ethics.
A 1990 New York Times editorial agrees: “In light of the uncertainty, critics [of fluoridation] argue that administrative bodies are unjustified in imposing fluoridation on communities without obtaining public consent…. The real issue here is not just the scientific debate. The question is whether any establishment has the right to decide that benefits outweigh risks and impose involuntary medication on an entire population. In the case of fluoridation, the dental establishment has made opposition to fluoridation seem intellectually disreputable. Some people regard that as tyranny.”
But there’s a second moral issue that is even broader. That is, can we start being honest with each other, or have we gone too far? Can we stand up against political influence and corruption and do what is really best for ourselves, our health and the planet? The issue is no longer whether there is adequate science to make us question fluoride’s safety. There is more than enough scientific evidence to support a total ban on fluoride. But industry and the legislative bodies that are dominated by special interest groups may never get around to admitting the obvious danger, unless we demand it.
The official stance on the fluoride issue reflects a consistent pattern of denial that began early in the 20th century, with industry’s support for and encouragement of water fluoridation, and continues to this day.
It is time to stop playing games. We must speak now and let our leaders know that we want the truth to come out. Otherwise we will have to ask ourselves whether we are capable ever of being honest again.
Fluoride Action Network
82 Judson Street
Canton, NY 13617
Web site: www.fluoridealert.org
Citizens for Health
5 Thomas Circle NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005
Web site: www.citizens.org
Citizens for Safe Drinking Water
Listing of phone numbers and/or e-mail addresses
in 15 states and a number of other countries
Web site: www.nofluoride.com/contacts.htm
Web site: www.fluoridation.com
Health Way House
403 Marcos St.
San Marcos, CA 92069
Web site: www.fluoridedebate.com
P.O. Box 40624
Eugene, OR 97404
Web site: www.sonic.net/~kryptox/fluoride.htm
Massachusetts Communities for Pure Water
1367 Parker Street
Springfield, MA 01129
Web site: www.saveourwater.org
New York State Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation
P.O. Box 263
Old Bethpage, NY 11804-0263
Web site: www.orgsites.com/ny/nyscof
Pennsylvania Environmental Network
Web site: www.penweb.org
Preventive Dental Health Association
Web site: emporium.turnpike.net/P/PDHA/health.htm
Stop Fluoridation USA
Suite University (online education)
Web site: www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/fluoridation
Zero Waste America
217 S. Jessup Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Web site: zerowasteamerica.org
Fluoride: Drinking Ourselves to Death?
By Barry Groves
Newleaf, an imprint of Gill & Macmillan Ltd., Dublin, 2001
Fluoride: The Aging Factor
By Dr. John Yiamouyiannis
Health Action Press, Delaware, OH, Third Edition, 1993
Outside of North America:
Australian Fluoridation News
Web site: www.glenwalker.net
Fluoride Free Water
Web site: www.fluoridefree.com
The Facts About Fluoridation
Web site: www.voice.buz.org/fluoridation
National Pure Water Association
Web site: www.npwa.freeserve.co.uk
Gary Null, PhD
P.O. Box 918
New York, New York 10024 USA
646-505-4660/ Fax 212-472-5139
Gary Null, PhD, has authored 50 books on health and nutrition and numerous articles published in leading magazines. Null holds a PhD in human nutrition and public health science from the Union Graduate School. He maintains a Web site at www.garynull.com that presents research articles on optimizing health through nutrition, lifestyle factors and alternative medicine.
Martin Feldman, MD, is assistant clinical professor of neurology at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City. He practices complementary medicine.
 Bryant B. Dublin fluoridation system shut down. Tri-Valley Herald, June 6, 2002. (Cited by Fluoride Action Network.)
 Griner D. Spill call delayed 2 hours. The Journal Gazette, February 22, 2001. (Cited by Fluoride Action Network.)
 Oregon live: 10-03-00 briefs: Partially treated sewage enters Coos Bay waters. The Oregonian, October 3, 2000. (Cited by Fluoride Action Network.)
 Washington R. Norfolk could teach Wakefield about posting water alerts. Boston Herald, August 9, 2000. (Cited by Fluoride Action Network.)
 Carton R, PhD, and The Truth About Fluoride, Inc. Middletown, Maryland latest city to receive toxic spill of fluoride in their drinking water. Townsend Letter for Doctors, 1994 Oct: p. 1124.
 Groves, Barry A. Fluoride: Drinking Ourselves to Death? Newleaf, an imprint of Gill & Macmillan Ltd., Dublin, 2001, 297-9.
 Gary Null interview with Dr. Paul Connett, July 24, 2002.
 TheOrator.com. U.S. Senate Bill 1626. From www.theorator.com/bills107/s1626.html.
 Gary Null interview with Dr. William Marcus, March 10, 1995.
 Gary Null interview with Dr. John Yiamouyiannis, March 10, 1995.
 Gary Null interview with Dr. John Lee, March 10, 1995.
 Fluoride Action Network, at www.fluoridealert.org
 Should Natick Fluoridate? A Report to the Town and the Board of Selectmen Prepared by the Natick Fluoridation Study Committee, 13 E. Central Street, Town of Natick, MA, October 23, 1997.
 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 13, 2001.
 Gary Null interview with Dr. John Yiamouyiannis, March 10, 1995.
 The Morning Call, February 7, 1990.
 The New York Times, March 13, 1990.