The Danger in Your Water
Fluoride has been tied to bone cancer, lower IQs, and osteoporosis. So why is it still being added to your water?
One fall day in 2004, Lea Anne Burke got a call from a neighbor. Had she heard that the city council was talking about adding fluoride to their water supply in Snohomish, WA? For years, the northern end of town had received fluoridated water from the nearby city of Everett. But nonfluoridated water from the Pilchuck River ran through pipes on the south side of Snohomish, where Burke, her husband, and their two little girls live.
Burke, 33, is a soccer mom and vice president of the local PTA. She studied environmental science in college and learned enough about fluoride to be convinced that she didn't want it flowing from the taps in her home. She won't even let her family brush with fluoride toothpaste. So Burke joined a small group of citizens who, last year, persuaded the city council to abandon its plan to fluoridate the water. "Until it's proven safe, why do it?" asks Burke.
If you have only ever known fluoride as a champion cavity fighter that keeps your pearly whites strong, Burke's concerns may sound off the wall. After all, two-thirds of US cities and towns fluoridate water, and most US dentists agree that it prevents tooth decay. In fact, in 1999, the CDC named the fluoridation of community water one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.
Yet, controversy and doubts about its safety have dogged fluoride ever since the first US city, Grand Rapids, MI, began adding it to its water supply in 1945. And now, several reports published earlier this year have tarnished fluoride's brilliant veneer. In March, a panel of dentists, toxicologists, and epidemiologists assembled by the National Research Council (NRC) determined that the level of fluoride allowed in community drinking water in this country is too high. In a cruel irony, the panel found that children who consume water containing the highest level of fluoride permitted by the EPA might actually be damaging their teeth; there was even a hint that it might depress IQ. What's more, the panel stated that consuming water with that amount of fluoride over a lifetime could weaken bones and increase the risk of fractures. And just 2 weeks after the NRC report made headlines, a Harvard study suggested that fluoridated water could cause a rare form of bone cancer in young boys.
The two reports have helped fuel the passions of fluoridation opponents, a group made up of scientists and concerned citizens. They claim that adding fluoride to drinking water may have made sense once but is unnecessary now because it is available in other forms, such as toothpaste. Drinking the stuff, they say, exposes millions of Americans to needless health risks. "Fluoridation should be abandoned," says dentist Hardy Limeback, PhD, DDS, head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto and a member of the panel that wrote the NRC's fluoride report. "It could turn out to be one of the top 10 mistakes of the 21st century."
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