OPINION -- Six weeks ago, the Fluoride Action Network, Food and Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association, American Academy of Environmental Medicine and several others petitioned the EPA to ban fluoridation chemicals because they’re neurotoxic – they harm the brain.
The petition cites 196 peer-reviewed studies published over the last ten years, including over 2,500 pages of supporting documents. Out of 61 human studies, 57 found that fluoride caused harm, including behavioral problems and lowered IQ in children. Out of 115 animal studies, 112 found harm. Out of 17 cellular studies and three reviews, all found harm.
These eye-opening numbers may be a revelation to most of the health and medical community, but significant evidence on fluoride’s neurotoxicity has been building for years.
The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences published Fluoride in Drinking Water, a 507-page review of over 1,000 studies that took three years to complete. Compiled by a blue-ribbon committee of 12 leading scientists, it’s considered the most comprehensive, authoritative resource ever written on the subject.
The NRC’s objectives were to assess if the maximum level of fluoride allowed in water, 4 parts per million (ppm), was safe (it determined it wasn’t) and assess fluoride’s toxicity in general, including its risk in relation to total exposure. It linked fluoride with known or possible health risks, including endocrine disruption, fluorosis, kidney and thyroid disease, diabetes and bone fractures, among others.
It was unequivocal on neurotoxicity: “it is apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain . . .“ In addition to numerous animal studies, it cited five Chinese studies linking higher levels of fluoride in water with lowered IQ in children. The studies varied in quality and detail, but the NRC concluded “the consistency of the collective results warrants additional research . . .”
Following the NRC review, several scientists on the committee openly voiced their opposition to fluoridation. To quote just two, the late neurobehavioral science specialist Robert Isaacson, PhD, said “I had no fixed opinion on whether or not fluoride should be added to drinking water . . . The more I learned the more I became convinced that the addition of fluorides to drinking water was, and is, a mistake.” Hardy Limeback, DDS, PhD, both a scientist and former head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto, said “In my opinion, the evidence that fluoridation is more harmful than beneficial is now overwhelming.”
HARVARD META-ANALYSIS – 2012
This Harvard-funded meta-analysis led by Anna Choi, PhD and published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children in China exposed to higher levels of fluoride tested lower for IQ in 26 out of 27 studies. The average difference was significant - 7 IQ points lower. Potential confounding causes such as lead and arsenic were noted in some studies, but controlled for in others, and the authors determined that “it seems unlikely that fluoride-attributed neurotoxicity could be due to other water contaminants.”
The higher fluoride villages had higher concentrations of fluoride in water than in the U.S., where artificial fluoridation is typically 0.7 ppm. Nine, however, had concentrations lower than 3 ppm and one high fluoride village had only 0.88 ppm.
The Harvard meta-analysis was further reinforced by a study published in The Lancet by Philippe Grandjean, MD and Philip Landrigan, MD. In 2006, their first review identified six chemicals as known developmental neurotoxins (harming the brains of children), including lead, arsenic and PCB’s. Their 2014 study named six more. Fluoride was one of them. These chemicals are especially dangerous because they can cause brain damage that is often untreatable and permanent, including behavioral problems and lower IQ.
The authors are world-renowned. Grandjean is a Harvard professor of environmental health, head of environmental medicine research at the University of Southern Denmark and toxicology advisor to the Danish National Board of Health. Landrigan is a professor at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and previously worked for the Centers for Disease Control and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal of the US Public Health Service.
THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST
In the face of this compelling and continuously growing body of evidence, promoters still argue that fluoridating water is safe for everyone. This ignores three indisputable facts. First, standard toxicology (and the EPA’s own guidelines) requires consideration of individual variability by taking the lowest dose or level showing harm and dividing it by at least 10 to determine a safety level protecting more vulnerable subgroups in a population. This lowers the bar far below current fluoridation practices.
Dose is the second factor, because toxin levels are only half the equation determining risk. Children, for instance, typically consume more water per pound of body weight than adults. The EPA petition documented that some children drinking just two liters of 0.7 ppm fluoridated water a day were at risk of significantly lowered IQ. Other subpopulations, like kidney disease and diabetic patients, athletes and manual laborers also drink higher amounts of water, increasing their health risks.
Third, apologists ignore other sources of fluoride, including children’s all-too-familiar swallowing of fluoridated toothpaste. Environmental exposure is common, such as in pesticide residues and air pollution. Intel, for example, was fined $143,000 in 2014 for illegal fluoride emissions in Hillsboro, and industrial discharges of fluoride, even when legal, are widespread throughout the country. Finally, anything made with fluoridated water, such as soft drinks, baby formula and processed food, can add significantly to our toxic load.
Whatever phrase is used, “First do no harm,” “Better safe than sorry,” “The Precautionary Principle,” etc., most would agree that if there’s reasonable doubt if a substance is safe, the public shouldn’t be intentionally exposed to it.
Considering all the recent neurotoxicity studies – not to mention fluoride’s other NRC- identified health risks - the sheer weight of scientific evidence has far exceeded reasonable doubt. It’s difficult to see how the EPA, or anyone else, can continue to believe that water fluoridation is safe.
Rick North is a retired executive for several non-profits. He’s the former executive vice president (CEO) of the Oregon American Cancer Society and former project director for the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. He can be reached at [email protected].