Austin, TX: America's Largest Water Fluoridation Fightby Niamh Marnell
May. 22, 2010
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Water fluoridation is an institution in America. The American Dental Association (ADA) and World Health Organization (WHO) say it is a safe and cost-effective way to prevent cavities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hails it as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th Century. On the other side, some experts, scientists, and concerned citizens argue that fluoride has many negative side effects and is hazardous to public health. In Austin, Texas, they are fighting about whether or not to have it removed from the public water supply.
In an interview about his 2004 book, The Fluoride Deception, Chris Bryson, award-winning investigative journalist and former BBC producer, concludes that "fluoride science is corporate science. Fluoride science is DDT science. Fluoride science is asbestos science. It's tobacco science. It's a racket." The book, based on 10 years of research, is a scathing review of the history of water fluoridation, which claims that the safety standards for water fluoridation in this country are based on fraudulent science.
Ted Norris, an MD with a PhD in neuro endocrinology agrees, saying that fluoridated water is a scam worse than big tobacco. "All our thyroids are screwed up. It causes chronic obesity. It causes fatigue. It causes depression. It causes lack of energy, and that's not even to get into the osteosarcomas and the hip replacements." He continues, "It's devastating. I think it's worse than lead. It's a shame."
Norris is just one of the many experts in Austin, Texas, pushing the hyper-political question of whether or not to continue fluoridating the city's water. Austin is poised to be the first city with a significant population in the United States to possibly reverse their practice of fluoridating the public water supply, which could cause large cities all across America to reevaluate the effects of fluoride on the health of their populations.
Bill Kiel, who was a council member in Alamo Heights, Texas, when they overturned the decision to fluoridate the water, experienced what he called "gangbusters" or the fluoride "lobby." He said that if Austin starts reassessing the water fluoridation policy, he "wouldn't be surprised if [the proponents of fluoride] came in with many hundreds if not millions of dollars to fight this. Can you imagine what that effect would be if a city that size actually rejected fluoride? I mean, it would really make the news."
Last August, Austin's environmental board was concerned enough by the citizens' outcry against water fluoridation to request an independent study. In December, they received a report by representatives from the Human and Health Services Department, Austin Water Utility, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, and the Watershed Protection Development Review Department. According to Chairwoman Mary Gay Maxwell, it was a three page report which contained no research yet concluded that fluoride levels were within safe limits, according to CDC guidelines. Board members comments that the report was not sufficient elicited applause from the meeting attendees.
Chairwoman Maxwell told DCBureau.org, "We had enough concern about it and enough interest in it to forward it to the council," but it wasn't taken seriously. At the time, she told The Daily Texan of her "extreme displeasure" at the report saying, "This makes me very disturbed. It's very hard to be the chair of a board that's been put in this position."
The council remained unresponsive to the request of the environmental board. A group of experts and concerned citizens, including the aforementioned Norris and Kiel, decided to pursue the issue independently. The group met Monday with council staffers and Council Member Chris Riley in an attempt to garner the two council sponsors necessary to go forward with the issue, assemble an independent task force, and ultimately get the vote of four council members that would be necessary to reverse the decision. Other experts in attendance included Griffin Cole, who is an Austin dentist with a fluoride-free practice, and Neil Carman, who is the Sierra Club Clean Air Program Director and has a PhD in plant chemistry.
The group was also armed with a wealth of scientific studies including the National Research Council's study on water fluoridation that was commissioned by the EPA. They also had the backing of Kathleen Thiessen, who is a leading expert in toxicology and risk assessment. Thiessen served as a panelist on the National Research Council review, "Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA's Standards." The review found that water only represents half of all fluoride consumed, which puts fluoride consumption in the 2-4 milligram per liter range associated with health dangers.
In an interview with Michael Connett of the Fluoride Action Network, Thiessen talked about the research saying, "I think it's important to know that our committee unanimously said that the existing regulatory limits for fluoride in drinking water are not protective." She continued, "We also pointed out a number of areas where there are, or seem to be, adverse health effects that have not historically been associated with fluoride or at least not in the mainstream literature."
After the meeting, Kiel reported to DCBureau.org that Council Member Riley and the staffers implied that moving forward without the support of the mainstream medical community would be difficult, though all were receptive and sympathetic to the cause.
Kiel suggested to others after the meeting that, with the issue being so contentious, they may want to first focus on the points of agreement between themselves and the mainstream medical community. One example he gave was that the CDC website states: "It now appears that the amount of the fluoride contained in the water used for mixing infant formula may influence a child's risk for developing enamel fluorosis, particularly if the child's sole source of nutrition is from reconstituted infant formula." He recommended they first focus on fighting for public health warnings, so that people are, at the very least, aware that fluoridated water poses a risk for infants.
Some citizens and experts in Austin strongly believe that the science is indisputable and that, if the medical community and the general public will take a second look at all the new research, there would be no question about getting fluoride out of the drinking water. Norris said, "The science is over. It is no longer an issue. Now it's just a political thing. How much are we going to act like this isn't killing us as a society in order to make sure that the corporations have their profits and are able to do business irrespective of what it's doing to our environment?"
The anti-fluoride groups will continue to push the issue to try to bring it into the public arena for debate. If they succeed, there will likely be a knock-down-drag-out fight between angry anti-fluoride citizens and the entrenched fluoride establishment with each side hurling science and experts at the other.