For years America has been dumping byproduct waste into its public drinking water and calling it a medicine that is good for teeth, despite the harmful effects of ingesting this toxic mineral
Story by: Jamie Soule
Some of us wake up each morning to a freshly brewed cup of coffee right out of our own homes. Parched after an exhausting workout, a large gulp of fresh-out-of-the-tap water quenches our thirst. When pasta is for dinner, we load up a pot full of water and set it to boil. In all that water is a medication meant to keep your smile looking good—it’s called fluoride, and it comes to you as a byproduct from fertilizer production.
Water fluoridation has been a common practice in the United States since the 1940s. Widely in practice across the country now for more than 50 years, fluoridation even out-dates the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Fluoride is voluntarily added to some drinking water systems as a public health measure for reducing the incidence of cavities among the treated population,” according to the EPA, which wasn’t established until the 1970s.
When water fluoridation began in the mid-20th Century, public water systems used sodium fluoride, which was and still is a byproduct of aluminum production. Now, due to lower cost, water systems more commonly use hydrofluosilicic acid, a highly corrosive byproduct of phosphate fertilizer production.
The EPA does not regulate levels of fluoride in drinking water. Instead the EPA sets a maximum contaminant level for fluoride at 4.0 parts per million (ppm) and a secondary standard at 2.0 ppm. The Department of Health and Human Services sets its standard for fluoride at .7 ppm as the optimal level to prevent tooth decay without causing harm.
Typical of other cities in Minnesota, Faribault fluoride levels are set between 1.0 ppm and 1.5 ppm, with an average level of 1.2 ppm, according to a 2012 drinking water report. Dennis DuChene, Faribault’s superintendent of utilities, confirmed that hydrofluosilicic acid is used to fluoridate Faribault’s water.
“For 2013, the city pays under contract $3.68 per gallon of hydrofluosilicic acid. Last month we used 417 gallons of hydrofluosilcic acid, so it cost Faribault $1,535 to fluoridate for the month of October.” That equates to almost $20,000 a year in Faribault alone.
Minnesota is No. 2 in the entire country, with fluoridation of public drinking water at 98.8 percent across the state, as of 2012. With more than 960 water systems fluoridating drinking water, costs of hydrofluosilicic acid can reach into the millions for Minnesota.
Most of U.S. phosphate production is done in Florida, and Mosaic, a phosphate fertilizer company owned by Cargill, is a major producer of hydrofluosilicic acid waste. Ranked the largest private company in the world by Forbes, Cargill is a well-known Minnesota company that sells anything from food to agricultural products to industrial products to, you guessed it, fluoride.
Hydrofluosilicic acid is approved by the National Science Foundation and the American National Standards Institute for water fluoridation, according to David Rindal, senior engineer at the Drinking Water Protection Section of Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). However, according to its material safety data sheet, hydrofluosilicic acid is classified as highly corrosive and toxic.
A common question among the community is whether this toxic byproduct added to drinking water for fluoridation is safe.
“It’s possible to dilute anything to a point below any meaningful physiological response,” said Trenton Vorlicek, assistant professor of chemistry and geology at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Aside from fluoride, Vorlicek said that there are various kinds of medications also present in drinking water, resulting from our and our animals’ consumption.
“So, should you freak out and stop drinking water? No. All of these [medications] are present at concentrations that are extremely sub-therapeutic. Some people probably fear the presence of fluoride in their drinking water because they believe it will negatively impact their health,” Vorlicek added. “Again, the levels of fluoride are high enough to positively impact your tooth structure but low enough not to have other toxic effects.”
On the other hand, research studies conducted in the last decade have shown that fluoride even at low levels can cause negative health effects, especially in children. The range of effects include dental and skeletal fluorosis, genotoxicity and possible behavioral and learning disabilities due to calcification of the pineal gland in the brain.
“A Harvard meta-analysis funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) has concluded that water fluoridation significantly lowers IQ scores in children, and may be a neurotoxicant that affects brain development,” according to a 2006 report. The study also stated, “Fluoride has immunosuppressive effects at low dosages, which can raise your risk of chronic disease, including cancer.”
Because of Harvard’s study, the National Research Council (NRC) recommended the EPA revise and update its risk assessment of fluoride levels in drinking water. In 2011, the EPA released its findings, stating that exposure levels of fluoride have increased in the last 40 to 50 years, after being added to toothpastes and other dental products, and children are “likely” to be exposed to too much fluoride. However, the EPA did not decide to change its standards of fluoride in drinking water.
In a 2012 documentary about fluoridation in the U.S., The Great Culling: Our Water, Dr. James E. Rota, a biological dentist is cited listing several countries that have banned the use of fluoride in drinking water, including Belgium, Sweden, Norway, China and Japan.
“All these countries have said that fluoride, number one is ineffective and toxic, and should not be used,” Rota says. “We are still using it. There’s something wrong here. It is time that we become aware and do something about it.”
One of the reasons European countries decided against fluoridation, according to Professor of Chemistry Dr. Paul Connett of St. Lawrence University, is because they felt they would be forcing medication on people.
“You are meant to have the right to informed consent to medication,” Connett says in the documentary. “What we are doing in a fluoridated community is: We are doing to everyone what a doctor can do to no one.”
Although technically voluntary under the EPA, Minnesota mandated water fluoridation in 1970, requiring all public water systems to add fluoride under Minnesota Statute 144.145 now for 43 years.
The EPA states that “Fluoridation is not required, which is prohibited by the Safe Drinking Water Act from requiring the addition of any substance to drinking water for preventative health care purposes.”
Is it, then, constitutional to mandate fluoridation—a process of medicating the public for preventative purposes—of public water systems?
Despite the EPA’s endorsement of fluoridation, the EPA Headquarters Union of Scientists opposes it:
“Recent, peer-reviewed toxicity data, when applied to the EPA’s standard method for controlling risks from toxic chemicals, require an immediate halt to the use of the nation’s drinking water reservoirs as disposal sites for the toxic waste of the phosphate fertilizer industry.”
Some Minnesotans agree that it is time to give up this outdated and “unnecessary” practice.
In May 2013, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion sponsored a bill that would repeal Minnesota’s mandated fluoridation practice, and a petition to the Minnesota House and Senate needing 500 signatures was created in July 2013. Canada and other U.S. states, such as South Dakota and New Mexico, have also taken action against water fluoridation.
As one of the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention’s Ten Great Public Health Achievements of the 20th Century, water fluoridation may soon have to be crossed off that list.