New groups forming to ban its use
By Martin Oliver
Of all topics that come up for discussion, water fluoridation is one of the most controversial and polarising.
While its proponents would like to say ‘case closed’, there remains vocal opposition to the practice wherever it is proposed, in Australia and overseas. Groups are again scrutinising its use and researchers’ studies are finding health hazards.
The addition of fluoride began in 1945, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from where it spread around the US and was adopted by a limited number of other countries including Australia.
About 90 per cent of the Australian population lives in a fluoridated area, and outside of Queensland there are only limited unfluoridated pockets. Some of these held out against its introduction: in Byron Shire a council vote resulted in the shire opting out of a regional fluoridation system, and Bega Valley Shire Council has deferred a decision on fluoridation expansion because of lobbying from concerned locals.
Overseas, a number of countries have either recently discontinued fluoridation, or moves have been made in that direction.
‘DOSE MAKES THE POISON’
The fluoride used in water is an industrial byproduct, and is supplied without any purification. As such, it contains a wide range of chemical contaminants including heavy metals.
Most commonly used in Australia are hydrofluorosilicic acid and sodium fluorosilicate, sourced from fertiliser manufacture. Another option is sodium fluoride from the aluminium industry.
As S6-class poisons, these are delivered in sacks with skull and crossbones symbols, accompanied by wording such as Danger, Warning, Poison, and Toxic. Workers handling them wear a full-body protection suit.
In Australia, suppliers include Incitec Pivot and Wesfarmers, and their offerings are supplemented by Chinese imports.
No fluoride chemical has so far been subjected to safety testing.
For fluoride’s proponents, the outdated toxicological notion of ‘the dose makes the poison’ is used to advance the shaky argument that a highly toxic chemical ceases to be toxic if sufficiently diluted.
However, synergistic interactions mean that fluoride, a neurotoxin itself, multiplies the neurotoxicity of aluminium and consequently may be increasing the incidence of Alzheimer’s. Similarly, the 2010 Sawan study in Toxicology found that fluoridated water increased the body’s uptake of lead.
Any benefit to children’s teeth is minimal, with around 0.6 decayed, filled, or missing tooth surfaces according to a large 1987 US study. This falls below the threshold of statistical significance, and it has been argued that any benefit attributed to fluoride can be explained because fluoride ingestion delays tooth eruption.
Drinking fluoride makes little sense, given that the claimed benefits are topical rather than systemic.
So what happens to ingested fluoride? About half is excreted, with another half being absorbed by the body. Most is calcified in the bones, and especially in the pineal gland in the centre of brain, which has been observed to accumulate concentrations of up to 21,000 ppm.
HEALTH ISSUES FOUND
A range of health issues associated with fluoridation includes:
- Some severe health reactions from people who suffer from fluoride allergies.
- Osteoporosis, caused by the body taking up fluoride as a substitute for the calcium it needs.
- Neurotoxicity, confirmed by 300 human and animal studies.
- Dental fluorosis, a disfiguring loss of tooth enamel. Among Australian 12-year-old children, about 25 per cent have fluorosis. In 2006, the American Dental Association issued a warning against the use of fluoride in making up baby milk due to the risk of dental fluorosis. No equivalent alert has been issued in Australia.
- Endocrine disruption, including an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), plus pineal gland effects (decreased melatonin production.)
- An increase in blood sugar concentration, which is of concern to diabetics and pre-diabetics.
These health symptoms are multiplied in people who have reduced kidney function because they excrete less fluoride, and a higher proportion is absorbed.
LINK TO ADHD
A 2015 population study in Environmental Health looked at 4 to 17 year-olds and found that areas that have artificially fluoridated water correlate with significantly higher ADHD levels. Each one per cent in water fluoridation was found to be linked to 67,000-131,000 additional ADHD cases.
Another 2015 study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. This used UK data, and found that medical clinics in fluoridated water areas had nearly twice the rates of hypothyroidism, when compared to those that are non-fluoridated.
More recently, a 2017 study in Environmental Health Perspectives looked at Mexico, where fluoride is naturally occurring rather than added to water. For 300 sets of mothers and children, it was discovered that higher maternal fluoride levels during pregnancy resulted in lower IQ function in the child. Every increase in the children’s urine fluoride concentrations resulted in lower cognitive scores.
The York Review was a British report on water fluoridation released in 2000. Despite being government-funded, it stopped short of demonstrating that fluoride is safe. The results were misleadingly spun by pro-fluoride lobbyists, which prompted the university to put out a further statement saying: “We were unable to discover any reliable good-quality evidence in the fluoridation literature worldwide.” Similar conclusions regarding tooth decay prevention were reached by Cochrane in 2015.
Politically, in Australia opposition is coming only from the Health Australia Party, and Fluoride Free WA which stood for the first time in the 2017 state election. Although the issue of health freedom has a large constituency, at present it is not represented by any political party.
REGULATION AND ACTIVISM
Australia’s regulation of fluoridation is carried out by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), a government body that has maintained a highly pro-fluoride stance for decades.
In 1991, the NHMRC issued recommendations about following up on anecdotal reports of fluoride toxicity and monitoring fluoride bone levels; neither of these steps has occurred. A detailed analysis of the NHMRC’s 2017 report by Fluoride Action Network Australia found what it regarded as 23 examples of bias that led to a highly favourable conclusion. Other proponents include the Australian Dental Association, Australian Medical Association, and state health bodies. One of the primary public relations sites for pro-fluoride interests is www.ilikemyteeth.org
No Australian state has mandatory fluoridation. In Queensland, a fluoride mandate was introduced in 2007 by the Bligh Government, and then discontinued in 2012 under Campbell Newman. As a consequence, at least 29 councils have removed fluoride from their water supplies, leading to a 10 per cent drop in state-wide fluoride water coverage. Saving money was among their primary motivations.
The fluoride campaign is becoming more active, with numerous groups dotted around the country. For anybody interested in pursuing the issue, a suggestion when discussing the matter is to avoid getting bogged down in scientific minutiae, and to focus on the issue of forced medication.
It is easier to prevent fluoride from being added than to take it out later. A better outcome is to retain decision-making in local hands rather than handing it over to the state health body. In the US, the InPower Movement was set up to tackle the smart meter issue, and has had some success with a sequence of legal liability letters that are sent to key decision-makers. Such a strategy could also be used in Australia.
Fluoride Free Australia; www.facebook.com/fluoridefreeaustralia
Fluoride Action Network Australia; www.facebook.com/fanaustralia
Fluoride Free WA; www.fluoridefreewa.org
Fluoride Action Network (US-focused); www.fluoridealert.org
Martin Oliver is a writer and researcher based in Lismore, NSW.