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Column: Bradford: Keep the Ban on Fluoridation

Canton, N.Y.

When getting my Ph.D. at Dartmouth, I relied on the Valley News for well-informed opinion; thus, I was deeply shocked to read its Dec. 2 editorial on water fluoridation. Having researched this issue for 16 years, first as a professor of environmental chemistry and then as director of the Fluoride Action Network, I believe this editorial could have just as easily been written by the dental lobby than the well-reasoned editors I came to respect.

Had the editorial writer read the book I co-authored, The Case Against Fluoride, which was published in 2010 by Chelsea Green of White River Junction, perhaps the Valley News would not have been so quick to rely on the Centers for Disease Control as a reliable authority on this matter. Why not? The statement attributed to the CDC in the editorial emanates from only one small part of the CDC — the Oral Health Division, whose 30 staff members are nearly all dentally, not medically, trained. Their expertise and qualifications pertain to teeth, not to other tissues. Moreover, they have a conflict of interest, since their mission is to promote fluoridation, not objectively assess its safety.

In 2006, a National Research Council panel issued a 500-page report titled Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards. The panel concluded that the EPA’s current safe drinking-water standard of 4 parts per million is not protective of health and a new “maximum contaminant level goal” needs to be determined. After six years, the EPA has not done this. Meanwhile, it is abundantly clear that the EPA’s current goal and standard (set in 1986) are hopelessly outdated.

“What the committee found is that we’ve gone with the status quo regarding fluoride for many years — for too long really—and now we need to take a fresh look,” said John Doull, chairman of the National Research Council panel, in an interview that was published as part of a piece in the January 2008 Scientific American. “... In the scientific community people tend to think this is settled. But when we looked at the studies that have been done, we found that many of these questions are unsettled and we have much less information than we should, considering how long this (fluoridation) has been going on.”

Since Doull made this statement the number of studies that have found an association between fairly modest exposure to fluoride and lowered IQ in children has jumped from five to 35. A Harvard University team recently reviewed 27 of these studies, and its meta-analysis was published this year in Environmental Health Perspectives. The studies compared the IQ of children living in villages with high versus a low fluoride exposure. All but one study found a lowering of IQ, with an average lowering of 7 IQ points and was statistically significant in the vast majority of cases. Meanwhile, a 2011 study by Ding Y and other researchers from Harbin Medical University in China reviewed the IQ of children drinking water in the range 0.3 to 3 ppm fluoride (which overlaps the concentrations used in fluoridation) and found a strong correlation between the level of fluoride in their urine (an indirect measure of daily exposure) and their IQ — the higher the fluoride exposure, the lower the IQ.

The Case Against Fluoride presents convincing evidence that swallowing fluoride doesn’t actually reduce tooth decay. Even promoters now concede that fluoride’s predominant beneficial action is topical, not systemic. So why swallow it and expose every tissue of the body, when it can be applied topically using fluoridated toothpaste? This approach also avoids forcing it on people who don’t want it. Surely this is a more reasonable solution than requiring people to buy bottled water (including low-income families) for all their drinking and cooking needs.

Bradford is no backwater, which is how the editorial seems to paint it, for doing what many other communities in other parts of the region and country have done. In North America, over 70 communities have stopped fluoridation since 2010. A few years ago, both Bennington and Brattleboro rejected fluoridation, and a few weeks ago Plainfield, Vt., stopped the practice. In 2010, the Burlington Public Works committee voted unanimously to recommend the suspension of the city’s fluoridation program because of the 2006 NRC report, and they felt there were many readily available sources of fluoride that could be consumed voluntarily.

Surely, the Valley News doesn’t believe the health of our children’s teeth is more important than the quality of their brains.

Paul Connett, a retired professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University, is director of the Fluoride Action Network, www.FluorideAlert.org.

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