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Courtroom battle could lead to limits on fluoridation of drinking water

By Daniel Ross, FairWarning

Although fluoride can occur naturally in water, many water utilities add the chemical with the goal of improving dental health. But an alliance of groups led by Food & Water Watch, a government accountability nonprofit, have sued the Environmental Protection Agency to force it to limit or ban adding fluoride altogether. They contend that the chemical presents an “unreasonable risk’’ of causing neurological damage, especially to young children and babies in the womb.

In opening statements on Monday, plaintiffs lawyer Michael Connett said it ”will be undisputed in this case that babies who are bottle-fed with fluoridated water receive the highest doses of fluoride of any age group.” At the time of “their greatest vulnerability, we are exposing infants, often from the poorest, most disadvantage communities, to a very high burden of fluoride,” Connett said.

But James Do, a Justice Department lawyer representing the EPA, said there are too many ”uncertainties and inconsistencies” in the evidence. “Let’s be one hundred percent clear here,” Do said. ”If EPA could conclude that there was an unreasonable risk from water fluoridation, EPA would regulate.”

As reported by FairWarning, water agencies first began adding fluoride in the 1940s, and today nearly 75 percent of Americans on public water systems are served fluoridated water. Fluoridation has been a lightning rod for crackpot conspiracy theories, including that it is part of a government plot to achieve mind control. Despite the outlandish nature of these fever dreams, fluoride is far from a benign chemical, health experts say.

Fluoridation in Florida

According to the Florida Department of Health, 77.4 percent of the state’s population is served by community water systems that receive fluoridated water. In South Florida, that breaks down to 98.1 percent of the residents of Miami-Dade County, 100 percent of the residents of Broward County and Monroe counties, and 66.2 percent of Palm Beach County’s population.

As things stands, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set an advisory limit of 0.7 parts of fluoride per million parts of water as the optimum level to help prevent tooth decay while avoiding other problems associated with excessive fluoride exposure. These include dental fluorosis—which can lead to severe staining of the teeth, enamel erosion and pitting—and at much higher exposure levels skeletal fluorosis, a disease associated with joint pain, fractures and the bone disorder osteosclerosis.

But the EPA, which regulates drinking water quality, has not acted to limit the amount of fluoride that can be added. It requires that when fluoride concentrations exceed 2 parts per million parts that customers be alerted, and sets a maximum level of 4 ppm—an allowance for water systems with high levels of naturally occurring fluoride.Want more stories like this? Sign up here to get news alerts.

According to the CDC, of approximately 275 million Americans on public water systems, more than 200 million are served water with fluoride added. An analysis by the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, found that about 30 million people receive tap water with fluoride levels higher than the CDC recommendation.

Medical and dental authorities say that a small dose of the chemical is beneficial for dental health. The CDC claims that  fluoridation reduces cavities by about 25% in children and adults. Still, a growing body of evidence suggests that Americans are routinely exposed to more fluoride than is good for them.

Experts point out that people already receive a daily dose of fluoride in toothpaste and mouthwash, and in many bottled drinks and processed foods. A key focus of the federal trial is a growing stack of scientific literature showing potential neurological harm from even low levels of fluoride.

Fluoride study in Mexico

In 2016, a 13-year study conducted in Mexico found that higher prenatal exposures to fluoride were associated with lower intelligence test scores for children later on. Between 2018 and 2019, several studies from Canada found similar effects, including that more fluoride in the urine of expectant mothers corresponded with an IQ loss in male children, and that youths from areas with fluoridated water had a higher prevalence of ADHD.

The EPA has asserted that there isn’t enough evidence showing neurological damage from low levels of fluoride, and that the benefits of fluoridation outweigh the risks.

The case before U.S. District Judge Edward Chen began its slow road to trial in 2016, when the plaintiffs petitioned the EPA to begin the process of banning fluoridation. A court subsequently denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the petition, setting the stage for the legal showdown. In the months leading up to the trial, judge Edward Chen made several rulings that carry the potential to shape its outcome, including one that bars the EPA from providing evidence of fluoride’s health benefits.

The case, being tried without a jury, was filed under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, and this is the first time a citizen’s petition under that law has made it to the trial stage, Robert Sussman, a former EPA deputy administrator, told FairWarning. “This is very much a precedent setting case which is going down a road nobody’s traveled down before,” Sussman said.

If the plaintiffs are successful, the case won’t necessarily signal the end to water fluoridation, but could cause the EPA to limit how much fluoride can be added. Any new rules could take years to implement.

“This is a good public health exercise,” said Mike Keegan, regulatory analyst for the National Rural Water Association, which represents officials of small community water systems. “You want to make sure this is an asset you’re putting into the water supply.”

This story was produced by FairWarning (www.fairwarning.org), a nonprofit news organization based in Southern California that focuses on public health, consumer, labor and environmental issues.

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Comments

7 responses to “Courtroom battle could lead to limits on fluoridation of drinking water”

  1. David Green Avatar

    After the first day it seems pretty obvious that the EPA lawyer’s goal is to ask as many irrelevant and sometimes absurd questions of the witnesses for the plaintiffs as possible, but the judge is clearly a sharp guy who understands the science. The fact that the EPA has had the plaintiff’s witnesses on the payroll and listened to their advice on lead but not fluoride is an interesting twist. It’s hard to discredit someone who you have acknowledged previously as credible, but I guess that is all they have. Getting that EPA scientist to admit that they have no studies showing safety to pregnant mothers was like pulling teeth.

  2. mark isenberg Avatar
    mark isenberg

    Sorry,no sale,fluoride is safe in Florida and a bunch of years back,some clueless Pinellas County commissioners listened to wackos about the risk of cancer from it.Fortunately,they reversed the ban quickly based on science facts. The Tampa Bay Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of it. Shame on the new effort to ban fluoride in water unless massive over saturation is happening.

  3. If you believe the fluoride (AKA Fluorosilicic acid; Hydrofluosilicic Acid; Hydrogen Hexafluorosilicate; Hydrosilicofluoric Acid.) that they put in drinking water is safe READ the MSDS here’s a link for the willfully retarded.
    https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/aldrich/372757?lang=en&region=US

    Or the easy version is the Skull and Crossbones and the acid burning the skin symbol.
    BUT it is a fantastic way for the phosphate / fertilizer manufacturing plants to get rid of their TOXIC waste and get Paid for it INSTEAD of having to Pay to get rid of it.
    Shame on people putting hazardous waste into drinking water.
    Hitler added it to the water in their concentration camps because the people become docile and lose their intellect.
    Don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining.

  4. James Reeves Avatar

    Fluoride is widely available (toothpaste, etc.) . Use it — as much as you wish — but it should be illegal to add
    it to drinking water and force EVERYONE to consume it without consent.

    Most of the world understands that fluoridation is ineffective for teeth and dangerous to health. While the
    US is about 70% fluoridated, the world is only 5% and Europe is only 3%.

  5. You’ve scored 6 #fluorothink points like this:

    A= references to fluoride being added to water in the article = 6

    B = mentions of fluoride being added to people in the article = 0

    C = talk of fluoride being added to animals, plants, and other elements of the biome = 0

    Your score A-B-C = 6-0-0 = 6

    While still disappointingly biased in favour of psychological denial, you have beaten the San Francisco Chronicle and Activist Post. https://twitter.com/turizemptuj/status/1270699561913397249

    A Letter to the Editor http://www.nfl.si/ed

  6. James Reeves Avatar

    Here are a couple of conclusions from the recent federal lawsuit underway in California.
    Reducing IQ points in children is criminal.

    “It’s undisputed that fluoride will pass through the placenta into the brain of the fetus. It’s undisputed that babies who are bottle fed with fluoridated water receive the highest doses of fluoride in our population at the moment of greatest vulnerability. It’s undisputed that fluoride damages the brain.”

    “We have 4 high quality cohort studies. Each has found associations between early life exposures to fluoride and lowered IQ…by around 5 IQ points. The effect size rivals the neurotoxic effects of lead.”
    “There is no dispute that the developing brain is the most susceptible to neurotoxic side-effects.”

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