Health

Something in the Water

Feds admit fluoride danger

A favorite conspiracy theory of the far right — yes, we’re talking the John Birch Society here — is that the fluoridation of public drinking water is a government plot to control our minds.

It’s a theory that’s been ridiculed as paranoid, delusional and just plain nuts. The Centers for Disease Control still calls fluoridation “one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.”

It turns out that maybe the theory isn’t quite so delusional — despite the famous parody in the 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, where the insane character of Gen. Jack Ripper calls fluoridation “the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have every had to face. … Have you ever seen a commie drink a glass of water?”

But health fears turn out to be founded in fact.

Giving credence to the critics, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the end of April recommended the cap on fluoride in public water be reduced by almost half (from 1.2 milligrams per liter to 0.7 milligrams). That’s the first change in 63 years.

Giving credence to the critics, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the end of April recommended the cap on fluoride in public water be reduced by almost half.

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The HHS says it is cutting the amount because they’re worried people, especially kids, are getting too much. That leads to something called fluorosis. Little white spots and lines start appearing on your teeth. Let it go long enough and your teeth get pitted.

The CDC, which still favors fluoride in water, says that fluorosis is just a “cosmetic” problem and nothing to worry about. The conspiracy theorists would say there’s a little more to it than that.

Fluoride was first introduced to public drinking water in the U.S. in the 1940s. It was a health innovation based on reports of low levels of tooth decay in communities where fluoride occurred naturally in the local drinking water.

Unfortunately, the fluoride added to public water wasn’t — and still isn’t — the same as the natural stuff. It’s a manufactured chemical called sodium fluoride, an industrial byproduct. The Food and Drug Administration classifies it as a toxic substance, and the Environmental Protection Agency considers it a nasty environmental hazard.

The Food and Drug Administration classifies it as a toxic substance, and the Environmental Protection Agency considers it a nasty environmental hazard.

At this point, conspiracy folks will tell you the scheme to put sodium fluoride in drinking water came from Alcoa Inc., the aluminum maker, so the company could make a buck off its waste products. The conspiracy camp also says the Nazis used fluoride to keep concentration camp inmates and Russian prisoners docile and easy to control — just what they say the government is up to.

While it’s easy to deride these critics as loony — the Nazi rumor is probably just that — the sad truth is that scientific studies keep confirming the bad health mojo of industrial fluorides.

Health_FlummoxedbyFlouride_info-thumbWant a list? A 2005 study by the Harvard School of Dental Health linked fluoride in tap water to bone cancer in young boys. A 2008 article in Scientific American concluded fluoride degrades the endocrine function, especially in the thyroid. In 2010, the Journal of the American Dental Association published a study showing fluoridated water mixed with baby formula caused rampant fluorosis in infants.

Amazingly enough, even the CDC estimates one in three kids have fluorosis, even though they think it’s just an appearance issue. But you have to ask if those kids’ teeth are becoming pitted from drinking fluoridated water, what’s happening to the rest of their bodies — their bones, their glands, even their brains?

The scariest study was published three years ago by Harvard University in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study conclusively showed that “children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQs than those who lived in low fluoride areas.” In wise old Europe, only small parts of the UK and Spain fluoridate drinking water. Countries like France, Germany, Belgium, Finland and Sweden reject fluoridation as a violation of citizen rights.

So why do we keep fluoridating our water? Is it because we have the lowest dental decay rates? No. Actually there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between fluoridation and decay rates. Denmark, for example, uses no fluoridation but has fewer cavities than we do. New Zealand, which does fluoridate, has a higher cavity rate.

The lowest rates for tooth decay worldwide have nothing to do with fluoride and everything to do with frequent exposure to sugar. Where sugar is scarce, so is dental decay — places like China and Africa, where sugar is not a traditional part of the diet.

Meanwhile, someone out there is making a lot of money selling fluoride to the government. And they keep putting it into the water supply without — and any good John Bircher would point out — the consent of the citizens.

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