The Battle over Portland’s Water

Author concludes that there’s no consensus that fluoridation is safe for human health

OPINION – August 22, 2012 -- For months, there has been a behind-the-scenes, coordinated effort to fluoridate Portland’s water. It only came to light when the Oregonian broke the story August 10th that commissioner Randy Leonard was going to lead the effort. Since then, Nick Fish and Mayor Sam Adams have come out in favor of it, which points to at least a 3-2 vote in the Portland City Council to approve it. There have been reports a vote could be coming quickly, as early as the first or second week in September, but nothing is confirmed yet. When put to a public (instead of city council) vote, Portland’s electorate has turned it down three times, but the last vote was in 1980.

For most of my life, I supported fluoridation. The government had given it a green light and I accepted the commonly-held opinion of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that fluoridation prevented cavities and was demonstrated safe.

But when a few people I respected, including some physicians, raised some questions, I decided to investigate the issue. I was surprised, and chagrined, at what I found. Over the past five years, I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours researching the science, history and politics of fluoridation. Besides dozens of specific studies, my main sources have been Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards by the National
Research Council of the National Academies of Science, The Case Against Fluoride by Paul Connett et al, and The Fluoride Deception by Christopher Bryson. The National Academies are considered the gold standard of scientific inquiry, Connett is the lead nationwide scientist opposing fluoridation and Bryson is a highly-respected investigative journalist who has worked for ABC, NPR and the BBC, winning multiple awards. All three books, plus numerous other articles, including one in Scientific American, disclose an enormous amount of evidence that water fluoridation, however well-intentioned, is a serious mistake that can threaten human health.

If you don’t read any further (but I really hope you do), please understand this: There is absolutely, positively, NO consensus that fluoridation is safe for human health. On the contrary, there are numerous solid, peer-reviewed scientific studies that indicate just the opposite.

By way of background, I’m the former executive vice president (CEO) of the Oregon American Cancer Society. I worked in several management positions for ACS for 21 years. And until I retired a little over a year ago, I was the founder and director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign for Safe Food, which for over seven years addressed the human health and environmental risks of genetically engineered foods. I co-founded and facilitated the nationwide coalition opposing recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) in dairy products. I’m neither a scientist nor a physician. However, as a health agency executive, I’ve collaborated with these professionals most of my adult life and am familiar with scientific and medical concepts and methods.

I include the above paragraph because the pro-fluoridation forces often lump anyone opposing it as purely emotional anti-science kooks, John Birchers, etc. (This is exactly the same ad hominem technique Monsanto uses to brand those opposing GMO’s.) Of course, there are some people that fit the description.

But since I’ve worked on fluoridation, I’ve been impressed by the serious scholarship and research skills of physicians, scientists, lawyers and lay people who have taken the time and effort to study the issue and had the courage to speak out. What they’ve found has been enlightening – and appalling.

But let’s start with you. Most of you, understandably, haven’t given much thought to fluoridation and think it’s fine. You’re probably influenced by organizations such as the American Dental Association, American Medical Association, etc. that have endorsed the practice. Like most people, you don’t have the time and/or interest to thoroughly investigate every topic. You check out individuals and organizations you respect, see where they stand and vote/believe accordingly. We all do this.

Having worked in non-profit management of health/science/food for nearly three decades, I’ve had numerous colleagues in organizations supporting fluoridation that I’ve liked and respected. I still do.

But for those who still support fluoridation, I respectfully – and emphatically - disagree with every one of them.

Here are just a few points (there are many, many more) for you to consider:

Although many organizations and the government in the U.S. support fluoridation, there are many more entire countries that don’t want anything to do with it. Out of 196 nations in the world, only 27 have fluoridated water and only 11 have more than 50% of their
population drinking it. Most countries in Europe, for instance, have zero fluoridation. A few allow fluoridated salt to be sold, but buying this is a consumer choice, not a necessity like water. Some quotes from officials: Denmark: “We are pleased to inform you that according to the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy, toxic fluorides have never been added to the public water supplies.” France: “Fluoride chemicals are not included in the list (of chemicals for drinking water treatment). This is due to ethical
as well as medical considerations.” Sweden: “Drinking water fluoridation is not allowed . . . New scientific documentation or changes in dental health situation that could alter the conclusions of the Commission have not been shown.” Luxembourg:
“Fluoride has never been added to the public water supplies . . . In our views, the drinking water isn’t the suitable way for medicinal treatment . . .”

The chemicals used to fluoridate over 90% of the water in the U.S. are designated by the EPA as hazardous waste. They are by-products of manufacturing phosphate fertilizer and often contain arsenic and sometimes contain lead, both known carcinogens. There are no safe levels of arsenic or lead, no matter how diluted. If these chemicals weren’t sold to water districts, the corporations producing them would have to pay for their disposal. Neither the FDA, EPA nor the corporations producing the fluoridating chemicals assume responsibility or liability for their safety. No one does.

Then there’s the matter of IQ. The 2006 National Academy of Sciences report examined four studies from China comparing children’s IQ’s from high-fluoride and low-fluoride areas. Every one showed that fluoride lowered IQ, typically by 5-10 points. The report acknowledged some studies were stronger than others and they lacked details that would permit full evaluation. But based on the information they had, the NAS concluded “. . . the consistency of the collective results warrants additional research on the effects of fluoride on intelligence . . .”

That NAS recommendation for further research from 2006 was based on only four studies. Last month, a Harvard meta-analysis on IQ studies by Choi et al and partially funded by the National Institutes of Health was published, showing 25 out of 27 studies found the higher the fluoride, the lower the IQ in kids. In the scientists’ words, “children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low fluoride areas . . the consistency of their findings adds support to existing evidence of fluoride-associated cognitive deficits and suggests that potential
development neurotoxicity of fluoride should be a high research priority.”

The Choi study also acknowledged that most of the research studies had some weaknesses. Also, most of the studies’ test groups had higher concentrations of fluoride than what is present in U.S. fluoridated water. But when you consider there have been
over 80 animal studies also indicating fluoride harms the brain, the consistency of the human and animal studies is striking and demands further investigation. With this many red flags, it’s unbelievable that we’re subjecting anyone living in a fluoridated water area to be a human test case for diminished IQ.

Fluoride added to the water is a drug, intended to produce a change in our bodies. Every drug has potential side effects. Even a relatively safe drug like aspirin can cause extreme harm to some people.

When a doctor prescribes a drug, he/she follows standard protocols for maximum safety and effectiveness. The drug has been tested and approved by the FDA and meets Current
Good Manufacturing Practices, meaning it is pure. The doctor prescribes the drug to an individual. It is a specific dose and is to be taken for a defined period of time. The doctor explains the benefits, risks and potential side effects to the patient. The patient then gives informed consent to taking the drug. The doctor monitors the use and results of the drug.

Every single one of the above protocols of prescribing a drug is being violated by water fluoridation. Dr. Peter Mansfield, a physician from the UK and advisory board member of a government review of fluoridation said:

"No physician in his right senses would prescribe for a person he has never met, whose medical history he does not know, a substance which is intended to create bodily change, with the advice: 'Take as much as you like, but you will take it for the rest of your life because some children suffer from tooth decay.’ It is a preposterous notion."

Preposterous, indeed. When you think about what’s happening here, it becomes clear that the entire concept of adding ANY DRUG to the water supply defies common sense.

For further information on the above topics and many others, the Fluoride Action Network has an excellent website at

The Precautionary Principle (which the city of Portland and Multnomah County officially adopted in 2006) says that the burden of proof is on the producer of a substance to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that it meets acceptable levels of necessity and
safety before introducing it. In other words, better safe than sorry. Fluoridation of water doesn’t even come close. If the Portland City Council approves fluoridation, it is in direct violation of the Precautionary Principle and a direct contradiction to its own rules.

Anyone that tells you there’s conclusive proof or a scientific consensus on the safety of water fluoridation is either sadly mistaken (most people) or in the case of certain individuals, knowingly trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

Rick North is the former CEO of the Oregon American Cancer Society (1994-99) and former Project Director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign for Safe Food (2003-2011). He retired in February 2011 to become a volunteer confronting undue corporate influence in elections and the government.

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I am a retired general dentist, and have lived in Portland for over 32 years. I was trained in fluoridated Chicago, Ill. and practiced an additional 4 years while my wife completed her medical school training. During my 4 years of practice, part of the I was taking care of the poorest of the poor. Guess what? Even in fluoridated Chicago, poor people got more cavities than middle and upper middle class people. It wasn't until I relocated to Portland in early May, 1980, that I had my "you're not in Kansas anymore" epiphany on the public health value of fluoridation. My first day of practice I saw a 20 year old female with a full upper denture (never saw that in Chicago at that age). Most of the adults born and raised in Portland had fillings or cavities on every surface of their teeth, I saw more early childhood cavities (greater than 7 cavities in one child's mouth), and I saw a far greater amount of root surface cavities in adults. Since 1999 I have been advocating for improved oral health for all Oregonians and I believe, as every public health official I've met, that fluoridation is the FOUNDATION of a sound public dental health policy. I April, 2010, I met Mr. North when he was still with PSR, and I had an opportunity to present to the PSR board and book club on the benefits of fluoridation with the opponents of Kim Kaminsky of Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water and local cosmetic dentist, Bill Osmunson, of the Fluoride Action Network. PSR was considering taking a position against fluoridation, and Mr. North was pushing very hard to make this happen. However, make no mistake: There are as many supporters for fluoridation within the PSR membership as there are against. One of those members supporting fluoridation is Dr. Ginny Feldman, a retired pediatrician, who has done an extensive review of the Chinese IQ studies. One of the studies by Qin found the highest IQ level in communities with fluoride water levels at 1.0 parts per million (ppm), what the optimal level was until the HHS suggested lowering it to 0.7 ppm late last year. (the previous recommended range was 0.7-1.2 ppm). However, these studies from some of the most polluted countries in the World, and experts have all stated that they studies were poorly designed and did not control for confounders. For more information on how opponents like Mr. North are distorting this Harvard review, please go to: . Since fluoridation began in 1945 and up to the 1990's, the average IQ in the United States has increased an average of 15 points. Some brain drain, Mr. North. And by the way, Mr. North did not get his way, and PSR has not taken an official position against water fluoridation. I have two other very good friends who are physicians and members of PSR, and they keep me in the loop on anything that sounds like fluoridation sabre rattling is starting up within PSR. Mr. North also speaks about Chris Bryson's book, "The Fluoride Deception". To keep this post relatively short, I will come back to a second comment and share with you part of a balanced review of that book. Lastly, the Precautionary Principle: I would like you to read the 18 page introduction of a book, "RISK a practical guide for deciding what's really safe and what's really dangerous in the World around you". by David Ropeik and George Gray. In part the authors state, "...opponents of a sweeping Precautionary Principle would deny society many of the benefits of new technologies for years, even decades until thorough scientific study can be completed...almost anthing carries 'some' risk. Under the most rigorous application of the PP, it would be hard to approve such things as motor vehicles, prescription drugs, or vaccines. While it makes sense to err on the side of caution, we should assess risks on a case-by-case basis, rationally weighing them against the benefits. A blanket PP might deny society a public health advance that could save lives before all the scientific answers are in." A perfect example would be the Salk vaccine. If the PP was applied, thousands of people if not millions might have become crippled by polio. Lastly, lastly, Google Quackwatch and Fluoride Action Network, Mr. North's main website that he seeks his anti-fluoridation propaganda.

I wanted to share with you comments from a very balanced review of the book referenced by Mr. North titled, "The Fluoride Deception". ".. Unfortunately, his desire to make the book more exciting leads him into the all-too-familiar trap of tarring with the same brush anything associated with, or even sounding like, fluoride or fluoridation. This is especially ironic after he starts the book with "notes on terminology", saying "fluorine and fluoride should not be confused". However, in the next section he tells us "the same potent chemical that is used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, to prepare sarin nerve gas... is what we give to our children". No doubt we can expect a series of books on chlorine ("the same potent chemical used in insecticides is what we put on our children's food") and oxygen ("the same potent chemical used in the strongest acids is what we allow our children to breathe"). No chemist would dispute the extreme hazards of many fluorine chemicals, but to group all fluorine chemicals together as 'bad' is wrong. The book is peppered with similar absurdities, which will be annoying to those who know their chemistry but dangerously misleading to those who don't. " James Clark is at the Clean Technology Centre, Department of Chemistry, University of York, YorkYOl05DD,UK. NATURE | VOL 4 34 \ 17 MARCH 2005 [ PS: You will NOT find this review in Mr. North's Fluoride Action Network website

For a moment I thought Mr.North might have something useful to say about water fluoridation, but he simply reflects the same old Fluoride Action Network stuff from the internet, Connett, and Bryson. I am quite familiar with all the anti-fluoridation arguments and "studies." I, too, have extensively researched water fluoridation over the past two years, solely to answer for myself whether fluoridation is safe, effective, and cost-beneficial. My conclusion: drinking water fluoridation at recommended levels, even with declining caries rates, is safe, effective, and cost-beneficial as a public health measure to benefit children and adults. Jock T. Pribnow, MD, MPH

Jock T. Pribnow, MD, MPH I find it fascinating that a physician would prefer to put a toxic waste product, hydrofluorosilicic acid in the tap water which has not had any toxicology studies or safety studies for use in tap water rather than recommend Vitamin D3, 1000 IU units daily. This was shown in studies in the 1930's, (references supplied upon request) to be effective and help to prevent/ameliorate colds and the flu as well. Of course good dental hygiene, no soda pop, little sugar and good nutrition help to create excellent dental health. As registered nurse I find it hard to believe a physician would recommend mass medicating the population with a toxic waste tooth medicine with no informed consent, no dose control, (the more you drink, the more tooth medicine/poison you get), no regulation, no toxicology studies and no safety studies. Oh, I almost forgot, you are paid to push fluoridation unlike Dr. Paul Connett, Dr. Bill Osmunson, Dr. Hardy Limeback, Dr. Gilles Parent, Jeff Green, James Robert Deal and many more who know the truth and do not benefit financially for telling the truth. With all the cities ending and refusing fluoridation, the HFSA suppliers must be getting worried they are going to have to spend millions disposing of this hazardous waste instead of making money from it. Has anyone noticed how the fluoridation pushers call it fluoride that is put in the water when in fact it is a toxic waste, hydrofluorosilicic acid. Do they really mean to deceive? If they can't tell the truth about that, what else can they not tell the truth about? Keep watching for the new website which is going live at any hour and will mean the end of fluoridation.

Kallie, I find it fascinationg that even an R.N. can become brainwashed with the propaganda of the Fluroide Action Network. Every time a thoughtful well-researched comment appears, the author gets accused by the opponents of fluoridation of being a "paid lobbyist", "a big pharm shrill", an "astroturfer", etc. Guess what, Kallie, none of us are getting paid. As if Paul Connent flies all over the world as a fluoridation "hit man" on his own dime. Not likely. Let's just discuss the HFSA issue that you raise. In 2006, I met with Dr. Joyce Donohue, Chief Toxicologist for Fluoride at EPA in her Washington, D.C. office and discussed the chemistry of HFSA. The EPA has a fact sheet which states that when the pH is above 4.1, there is complete dissociation of the HFSA into its ionic components: hydrogen, fluoride, and silica. Plus the fact that 4 gallons of HFSA is diluted into 1,000,000 gallons of water to have a optimal concentration of 0.7 ppm. The studies on the dissociation were done by Dr. Edward Urbansky of the EPA and reconfirmed by Drs. Michael Morris and Larry Beck of the University of Michigan. 'Fate of fluorosilicate drinking water additives.' Urbansky ET. Chem Rev. 2002 Aug;102(8):2837-54 Bottom line, Kallie, NO ONE ever drinks HFSA ! You can often tell about an organization by what others they align with. The Fluoride Action Network has recently aligned itself with Dr. Joseph Mercola, a modern day snake oil salesman who also opposes vaccinations. FDA Orders Dr. Joseph Mercola to Stop Illegal Claims - Quackwatch Lastly, latest CDC report states that 74 % of U.S. citizens on public water systems enjoy the public health benefit of fluoridation. The trend is upward, not downward as more and more cities are actively moving forward to fluoridate their public water supplies.

ToothTruth, Perhaps you can propose why seemingly well-grounded and educated people in Portland look like MacCarthyism risen from it's grave, when it comes to fluoridation. The facts they use are so contorted as to not even resemble the sources they cite, or are confabulated as the World Wrestling Federation. I am from Illinois, and one of the first things I noticed when I came to Portland was the destroyed dentition of almost everyone. Don't people here wonder why the rest of the country doesn't have a mouthful of rotten? Thanks