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Two Opposing Views on Fluoridating Portland's Drinking Water

The first commentary, by Rick North, encourages voters to defeat the ballot measure because of health concerns, lack of effectiveness and higher costs, while the second commentary, by Claudia Colen and Dr. Teran Colen insists the science is clear that fluoride doesn't have any negative health or environmental impacts and is a safe and effective option.
April 19, 2013

OPINION – APRIL 19, 2013 -- On May 3, ballots will be sent to all Portland voters asking them to vote on fluoridation. The last day to vote will be May 21.

The favorite campaign talking point of the pro-fluoridation folks is a list of health organizations endorsing the practice, led by the American Dental Association and the CDC. They know people are very busy and many simply accept the opinions of these authority figures.

I used to accept the list too, until I actually started looking at the science five years ago. Then, like so many others, I changed my mind. Most information is lay-friendly, but for more technical aspects, Clean Water Portland is fortunate to have a top-notch local and national team of scientists, physicians and dentists as advisors.

I soon discovered there’s a much bigger list that doesn’t support fluoridation – most of the rest of the world.

I worked for over 30 years in non-profit public and environmental health, and have never seen an issue like fluoridation where our government and many health organizations are so out of step with their counterparts in most other nations.

Out of 196 countries, only 27 fluoridate and only 11 for more than half their population. The U.S. fluoridates more people than the rest of the world combined. In Europe, 43 out of 48 countries don’t, accounting for 97 percent of the population. Most never started, but nations like Germany, Finland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands stopped as science kept building against the practice.

In addition to health concerns, Europeans often cite how it’s unethical to put a drug – in fluoride’s case, a known toxin - into the water supply. There’s no control over individual medical history, dose and duration of ingesting it – this one-size-fits- all violates EVERY safety protocol of drug administration. That includes informed consent – fluoridation takes that choice away from you.

In the last few months, fluoridation proponents have made increasingly outlandish claims from “Fluoridation is supported by every major health organization” to “Every single healthcare organization in THE WORLD supports fluoridation.”

Let’s do a reality check. Just in the U.S., the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Thyroid Association, American Kidney Fund and many others don’t endorse fluoridation, although they don’t oppose it – yet. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine and International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology are already on record against it.

Look at recent trends in nations whose governments have followed the U.S. and actively pushed fluoridation:

  • Canada – Over the past five years, the percent of residents drinking fluoridated water has dropped from 45 percent to 32 percent. Quebec City, Moncton and Calgary all quit, as did Windsor, ON three months ago.

  • Australia – Queensland dropped its requirement that cities fluoridate in December. In a few short months, 30 towns and cities stopped – over half a million people.

  • Israel – The Health Minister announced last week that municipalities would no longer be required to fluoridate, effective within a year.

The reasons cited are the same as the Europeans – health and ethical concerns, lack of effectiveness and high costs.

The movement against fluoridation is growing here too. Please examine your Voters Pamphlet carefully, where you’ll see 41 statements in opposition. They include two scientists authoring the landmark 2006 National Academy of Sciences report, the former director of the EPA Scientists Union, endocrine disruption specialist Dr. Theo Colborn and Ralph Nader. They also include several Portland residents whose health will be harmed by fluoridation chemicals, including former city commissioner Mike Lindberg. They’re joined by the Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeepers and Food and Water Watch who cite fluoridation’s environmental harm.

You’ll see another statement signed by 60 Portland-area physicians opposing fluoridation on health grounds. More wanted to sign on, but there wasn’t room.

There’s another list – American cities that have fluoridated. Why aren’t we on it, fluoridationists say – what’s wrong with Portland?

The real question is, what’s wrong with these cities? San Antonio, after fluoridating for nine years, saw decay rates for low-income children actually rise 13 percent. The same dental problems in Portland persist in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Boston, Detroit and numerous others that have fluoridated for decades.

Even the CDC acknowledged fluoride’s benefits are mainly topical – not from ingestion. We can do better for our kids – through proper nutrition, increased sealants and increased utilization of programs already in place providing dental care for low-income kids. The ABCD program in Washington State for Medicaid-enrolled children has been a major factor why cities there have lowered their cavity rates. Let’s do the good without the harm.

Fluoridation is a house of cards. It’s built on inertia, not science. It’s propped up by public relations, not public health. And it will fall from the weight of its multiple risks to people and the environment.

Please vote no on Measure 26-151.

Rick North is the former executive vice president of the Oregon American Cancer Society (1993-98) 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.

Why Water Fluoridation is Important

By Claudia Colen and Dr. Teran Colen

OPINION – APRIL 19, 2013 – As parents, we have been closely following the fluoride debate and community conversation. We are, respectively, an African American physician and a Latina public health advocate raising two young children in a community that we love. Yet we simply cannot understand why Portland doesn’t have water fluoridation.

Both of us were raised in cities with fluoridated water, and both of us feel that our dental health benefited from increased access to fluoride. Our parents, who did not have that same access, have suffered from the ill effects of poor dental health. In this day and age, it doesn’t make sense that our children’s generation should be forced to suffer those same negative consequences when fluoridating our water is a safe and effective option.

We’ve heard all the arguments, both for and against fluoridation. We’ve heard concerns that fluoride could be causing cancer, or a variety of other diseases, or that it hasn’t been studied long enough.

We’ve looked at the facts, and the science on this is so clear. Concerns have been studied thoroughly. The scientific and medical consensus is overwhelming – fluoride works, it’s safe and effective. Fluoride does not have any negative health or environmental impacts at the levels used for water fluoridation programs. This is why we still strongly support water fluoridation.

One of us is a board certified physician who diagnoses and follows cancer patients on a daily basis.

During my medical school and training at Harvard Medical School, through residency and fellowship, and throughout my career at Kaiser, I have never seen, been involved with or even heard about a single case of cancer or osteosarcoma being ascribed to water fluoridation. The science supporting the benefits and safety of water fluoridation is greater than the science showing that cigarettes cause cancer and that humans are contributing to climate change. The claims that water fluoridation at the recommended level has a negative health effect are simply untrue. There is no doubt. The science does not support those claims, and they are false.

One of us is a public health advocate who cares deeply about improving the health and well-being of our most vulnerable children.

I’ve learned that more than 21 percent of Portland’s children are suffering from untreated tooth decay, which is 40 percent more decay than kids in fluoridated Seattle. That is just too many kids in pain! This is unacceptable. And even worse, low-income kids and children of color have even worse rates of decay and have the most to lose because of lack of water fluoridation access. A child should never have to suffer more because they are poor and their parents cannot afford other more expensive preventative measures.

If we fluoridated the water we could reduce cavities by more than 25 percent. The way forward is clear.

Lately we’ve heard a lot about water fluoridation and Europe, so we looked into it. Europe has used a variety of programs to provide fluoride to its residents, including water fluoridation, which reaches 12 million Europeans, mainly in Spain, Great Britain, and Ireland. Fluoridated water isn’t widespread in certain parts of Europe mainly because of technical and infrastructure challenges. In France, for example, it’s logistically difficult to fluoridate water because there are tens of thousands of separate sources for drinking water. This is why Western Europe relies more on salt fluoridation, which reaches more than 70 million people and is used in conjunction with fluoridated milk programs in Eastern Europe, fluoridated bottled drinking water, and universal dental care. Whether distributed through salt, milk or community water systems, Europeans have access to fluoride and they reap the many benefits from it.

As parents, if we had even the slightest concern that water fluoridation wasn’t healthy for everyone, then we wouldn’t support it. But all the major health organizations that we know and trust fully support fluoridation including the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization. They all support community water fluoridation because it is safe and effective and saves money.

We are voting yes because we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to grow up with good oral health and strong teeth, not just the kids who live in a particular community. We are voting yes because the overwhelming science supports it. We are voting yes because our conscious tells us - it’s the right thing to do. Please join us in supporting water fluoridation in Portland by voting yes on measure 26-151 on May 21.

Claudia Colen and Dr. Teran Colen live and work in Portland, with their two young children. They moved to southeast Portland in 2009 and have since been busy raising kids, camping, fishing, exercising while pushing strollers, touring beautiful Oregon and being active in their community.

Claudia Colen and Dr. Teran Colen insist the science is clear that fluoride doesn't have any negative health or environmental impacts.


Submitted by James Reeves on Fri, 04/19/2013 - 23:42 Permalink

A scientific report (159 pages & 560 References) published in March shows how premature death and severe health problems are far greater for all ages in the fluoridated Republic of Ireland (ROI) compared to unfluoridated Northern Ireland (NI) or other unfluoridated European countries. Increased disease in ROI include: early onset dementia (450%), sudden infant death syndrome (300%), sarcoidosis (250%), congenital hypothyroidism (220%), osteoporosis (100%) Etc., etc. The World Health Organisation has also reported that the overall incidence of cancer per 100,000 in the RoI is 85% above the European region average, 43% above the EU average. The report is here: For a quick overview, look at the graphs on pages 6, 10 and 12.
Submitted by Matthew Bristow on Sun, 04/21/2013 - 00:48 Permalink

Fluoridation: a violation of medical ethics and human rights. Cross DW, Carton RJ. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2003 Jan-Mar;9(1):24-9. Abstract: Silicofluorides, widely used in water fluoridation, are unlicensed medicinal substances, administered to large populations without informed consent or supervision by a qualified medical practitioner. Fluoridation fails the test of reliability and specificity, and, lacking toxicity testing of silicofluorides, constitutes unlawful medical research. It is banned in most of Europe; European Union human rights legislation makes it illegal. Silicofluorides have never been submitted to the U.S. FDA for approval as medicines. The ethical validity of fluoridation policy does not stand up to scrutiny relative to the Nuremberg Code and other codes of medical ethics, including the Council of Europe's Biomedical Convention of 1999. The police power of the State has been used in the United States to override health concerns, with the support of the courts, which have given deference to health authorities. PMID 12749628 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Submitted by Matthew Bristow on Sun, 04/21/2013 - 13:47 Permalink

Fluoridation and the Environment, short version (med)(5:36) Be sure you vote by May 21st.
Submitted by Janet Nagel on Sun, 04/21/2013 - 19:08 Permalink

Ms. Colen and Dr. Colen, You are to be commended for you concern for the dental health of poor children in Portland. You represent two groups that some research has indicated suffer disproportionately high rates of adverse effects from fluoridation. I am wondering what persuaded you to put your reputations on the line by supporting fluoridation on the basis of endorsements and anecdotal observations, rather than on peer-reviewed scientific research that you have read and evaluated for yourselves. Dr. Colen, because you have not seen in your practice a case of osteocarcoma attributed to fluoridation, does not mean that the weight of epidemiological and clinical studies--over a period of nearly 30 years--does not show a relationship between exposure to fluoridated water and osteocarcoma in young males. Osteocarcoma is a rare cancer, so it is striking that the association with fluoride exposure is age and sex related. And statistical reliability in these studies is high. Ms. Colen, your conclusion that poor children in Seattle suffer less dental decay because of fluoridation is a simplistic observation that does not take into account variables like accessibility to dental education and professional dental care. Ways of assessing dental disease are also fraught with observer bias and other difficulties. Some years ago I personally witnessed a dental researcher from the University of Washington advocating for fluoridation in Bremerton and misrepresenting his own findings (which I had read) about decay rates in Seattle. People who have strong beliefs about the effectiveness of fluoridation often ignore the facts staring them in the face. I've been objecting to fluoridation for twenty years and it is a mystery to me why professionals and professional organizations continue to push fluoridation and to fudge their research and the information they put out to the public in support of a practice that unquestionably violates all standards of medical ethics and is ineffective as well. Dental researchers have concluded and the CDC has stated that any benefit afforded by fluoride is topical not systemic, i.e., it does no good to swallow it. We know why government and industry support fluoridation: to disperse an industrial waste product that has no industrial use or other cheap means of disposal. But why dedicated and reputable health professionals go along with the deception is beyond my comprehension. I once believed as you do, and in the course of twenty years I've worked directly and indirectly with many health professionals who also believed the false promise of fluoridation and discovered their mistake in the course of their professional activities. That is why we feel compelled to speak out about it. I hope you will avail yourselves of the ample availability of peer-reviewed scientific research on internet to inform yourselves about the facts of water fluoridation. My best wishes to you.
Submitted by Steven Slott on Mon, 04/22/2013 - 08:04 Permalink

2nagels, exactly how much peer-reviewed proof do you require as to the proven effectiveness of fluoride and the invalidity of claims of linkage of fluoridation to cancer? Here are three studies that demonstrate effectiveness. Just let me know how many more you would like: J Dent Res. 1986 Sep;65(9):1154-8. Root caries in an optimally fluoridated and a high-fluoride community. Burt BA, Ismail AI, Eklund SA. A comparison between the dental health of 3-year-old children living in fluoridated Huddersfield and non-fluoridated Dewsbury in 1989. J M Booth, C M Mitropoulos, H V Worthington Princess Royal Community Health Centre, Huddersfield, UK. Effects of Fluoridated Drinking Water on Dental Caries in Australian Adults G.D. Slade, A.E. Sanders, L. Do, K. Roberts-Thomson and A.J. Spencer J DENT RES published online 1 March 2013 Here are but two of the numerous studies stating no link to cancer. Just let me know how many more you would like. "In a February 1991 Public Health Service (PHS) report, the agency said it found no evidence of an association between fluoride and cancer in humans. The report, based on a review of more than 50 human epidemiological (population) studies produced over the past 40 years, concluded that optimal fluoridation of drinking water “does not pose a detectable cancer risk to humans” as evidenced by extensive human epidemiological data reported to date." ---National Cancer Institute. Cancer Facts. Fluoridated Water. [Online reviewed 2000] . -----Committee to Coordinate Environmental Health and Related Programs, Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Fluoride (February 1991). Review of Fluoride: Benefits and Risks. Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved August 10, 2011. "In one of the studies reviewed for the PHS report, scientists at NCI evaluated the relationship between the fluoridation of drinking water and the number of deaths due to cancer in the United States during a 36-year period, and the relationship between water fluoridation and number of new cases of cancer during a 15-year period. After examining more than 2.2 million cancer death records and 125,000 cancer case records in counties using fluoridated water, the researchers found no indication of increased cancer risk associated with fluoridated drinking water." -----National Research Council, Subcommittee on Health Effects of Ingested Fluoride. Carcinogenicity of fluoride. In: Health Effects of Ingested Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1993. Steven D.Slott, DDS
Submitted by Steven Slott on Mon, 04/22/2013 - 08:13 Permalink

I remain unclear as to the obsession of antifluoridationists with that which occurs in Europe. Where is the relevance of this to water fluoridation decisions in the United States? Aside from the points made by Colen and Colen in regard to European fluoridation decisions, European leaders are subject to the same onslaught of misinformation from antifluoridationists as are their American counterparts. The fact that European leaders may succumb to these "arguments" is no reason for leaders in the United States to do so. Steven D. Slott, DDS
Submitted by Joey Beaver on Fri, 04/26/2013 - 13:09 Permalink

Yep, and Europe is also against GMOs. Do you believe everything they tell you about GMOs as well? Fluoride is a neurotoxic at best, and keeping it out of our water isnt forcing kids to have bad teeth, all they gotta do is brush their teeth. If they dont, why should i have to drink something I know is poison because of their irresponsibility? Totth paste has 800 times the amount they want to put in our water. Dentists say swish dont swallow the fluoride! ADA admits fluoride isn't effective research it. Portlanders aren't dumb, we are all about health & human rights!
Submitted by Kenric Ashe on Tue, 04/30/2013 - 08:15 Permalink

I remain unclear as to the obsession of fluoridationists with that which occurs in Portland. Where is the relevance of this to water fluoridation decisions in Burlington, NC? Portland's leaders are subject to the same onslaught of misinformation from fluoridationists as are their Burlington counterparts. The fact that Portland leaders may succumb to these "arguments" is no reason for leaders in Burlington to do so. Kenric L. Ashe, Collusion Analyst
Submitted by Emily Emily on Tue, 04/23/2013 - 07:54 Permalink

Fluoridation saves money. Research shows that every $1 invested in water fluoridation produces savings of $38. This money is saved by families and taxpayers because people avoid paying the cost for more fillings and other dental treatments.Additionally, Anti-fluoride activists falsely claim that fluoride is a “medicine.” But the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition wrote: “Fluoride is not a medicine. It is a nutrient which enhances the stability of teeth and bones and is a partial preventative of [decay]” — see page 135:
Submitted by Matthew Bristow on Wed, 04/24/2013 - 17:01 Permalink

Voices (aka ToothTruth), you say "Fluoridation saves money. Research shows". Where's the research, though? The link you posted not only does not substantiate your first claim but also does not contain 135 pages--it contains 10--so it is not useful to substantiate your second claim either. In other words, why should I or anyone believe you?
Submitted by Joey Beaver on Sat, 04/27/2013 - 16:57 Permalink

Why would dentists endorse a product that will cost them to lose all of their revenue? I mean, that would put a business out-of-business! I know why dentists and the Nurses Association advocate fluoride, because it in fact causes cavities as a corrosive that it is, and health problems...ensuring a future job for those liars!