Fluoride in our water: are we brushing with danger?
SPECIAL REPORT There's a growing amount of evidence linking fluoride to cancer, osteoporosis and genetic damage. Most governments in Europe...
There's a growing amount of evidence linking fluoride to cancer, osteoporosis and genetic damage. Most governments in Europe have banned it, yet Ireland continues to add tooth-preserving acid to the public water supply. Gemma O'Doherty reports
Water fluoridation was once hailed as the saviour of our children's teeth. But since it was introduced four decades ago, it has been abandoned by almost every country in Europe. Everywhere, that is, except Ireland.
As evidence emerged linking it to cancer, osteoporosis and genetic damage, government after government condemned the practice of adding tooth-preserving acid to the public water supply as dangerous and unethical.
During the '70s and '80s, Sweden, Norway and Finland banned water fluoridation because its long term health and environmental effects were insufficiently known.
In 1975, Germany rejected it as ``foreign to nature, unnecessary, inefficient, irresponsible and harmful to the environment.''
One year later, the Dutch rewrote their constitution to ensure that the practice would never be allowed in that country again.
In 1977, Denmark rejected fluoridation because ``no adequate studies had been carried out on the long-term effect on human beings.''
In 1980, the Chief of Public Health in France declared it ``too dangerous''.
More recently, in 1996, 25 out of 26 councils in Northern Ireland voted against fluoridation of their drinking water.
In the UK, 10% of drinking water is fluoridated. Recent plans to extend the programme have been postponed following new research presented to the Ministry of Health on the medical side effects.
Today, just one country in Europe continues to endorse mandatory medication of the public water supply with fluoride. In fact, Ireland is the only democracy in the world which demands it by law.
As the Government continues to promote and expand the fluoridation programme throughout the country, it insists that the practice is perfectly safe and essential to the dental health of the nation. But as well as the many countries who refute this theory, opposition is growing from local authorities at home.
In the last year, Dublin City Council and Donegal and Sligo County Councils voted to suspend water fluoridation in their regions on safety grounds. Their motions were overruled by the Department of Health.
Although the dental profession has always actively supported water fluoridation, small numbers of dentists are beginning to question the ethics of dosing drinking water with a toxin whose long-term health effects are still largely unknown.
One former advocate has spent a year investigating fluoridation. Don Mac Auley, a 32-year-old Dublin-based dentist, became concerned after a number of patients told him they were worried about the possible health risks of fluoridated water. They wanted to know why, when the rest of Europe was so strongly opposed to fluoridation, Ireland was virtually alone in endorsing it.
Like most other young dentists, Mac Auley took his lead from the academics who had trained him at college. They had taught him that fluoride was the most effective weapon against tooth decay and did not pose any risk to health. To allay his patients' fears, however, he promised to investigate the matter further.
He studied the volume of international medical literature on fluoridation and discovered there was another side to the issue of which he was not aware. Foreign research linked fluoride to hip fracture and bone disease, brain disorders and irritable bowel syndrome, conditions with a higher prevalence in this country than most others in the developed world.
Two years ago, 1,200 scientists, doctors and lawyers from the American Environmental Protection Agency stated their opposition to water fluoridation because of the body of evidence that indicated ``a causal link between it and cancer, genetic damage, neurological impairment and bone pathology.''
There was also evidence that fluoride could actually lead to tooth disfigurement through fluorosis, a mottling or staining of the teeth that occurs when too much of the chemical is present in the body. Dentists here say up to 40% of Irish people suffer from dental fluorosis, although no research has been carried out to support their claims.
In 1995, however, the American Dental Association found that up to 80% of children living in fluoridated areas in the US and Canada had the condition. When this study was published, Canadian dental authorities conceded that fluoride could lead to bone and tooth destruction and damage overall health.
Some went even further. Dr Harry Limeback, Professor of Dentistry at Toronto University and consultant to the Canadian Dental Authority, claimed that water fluoridation had actually contributed to the birth of the multi-million pound cosmetic dentistry industry. He claimed that more money was now being spent treating dental fluorosis than would be spent on dental cavities if water were not fluoridated.
Armed with this information, Mac Auley sought guidance from his professional authority, the Irish Dental Association, and requested an overall picture of fluoridation in Ireland.
``To my surprise, I never received a reply,'' he says.
``I wrote two letters outlining the worries of my patients and stating I had a moral obligation to give them answers but I heard nothing. I also wrote to the Chief Dental Officer at the Department of Health and was sent a fact sheet on Irish dental policy and the website address of the American Dental Association. This provided no information on the situation in Ireland.''
Mac Auley decided to use the Freedom of Information Act to access the information he was seeking. He requested details on the research that had been done in Ireland on the effects of fluoride on public health, a stipulation under the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960. He also asked for information on the type of fluoride used in Irish water, how much was added to the water supply and where it came from.
The Department of Health referred him to the regional health boards. He wrote to all eight, requesting the same information.
One week later on a Friday afternoon, he received a telephone call from a senior dental surgeon at a health board outside his locality. The surgeon asked him what the relevance of his questions were, whether he planned to publish the results, and most surprisingly of all, what his political affiliations were.
The health board in question has admitted these enquiries were made. They acknowledge it is a matter of regret that the situation arose and have apologised for any offence caused.
However, other influences were brought to bear on Mac Auley by health board officials in the form of further telephone calls urging him to withdraw his Freedom of Information request and conform to IDA policy.
``I was completely amazed. I couldn't believe that the details of what I thought was a confidential request had been revealed. I contacted my solicitor who advised me to persevere with my enquiries.''
Four weeks later, he received replies from a number of health boards but they were limited in scope. In one letter from the Southern Health Board, he was told to go and look in the library, if it was answers he wanted.
``I felt there was an increasing resistance from officialdom to respond to my questions, but I was determined to get to the bottom of it.''
Mac Auley decided to appeal his FOI response to the Information Commissioner. Earlier this month, after a wait of almost one year, he finally received answers to some of his questions, answers that have confirmed his fears.
The fluoridating agent used in drinking water here is hydrofluosilicic acid, a component of toxic waste imported from the fertiliser industry in Holland. Hydrofluosilicic acid is a non-biodegradable, highly corrosive substance, contaminated with a number of heavy metals including arsenic and lead.
Every year, the Irish government pays hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Dutch company that produces this acid, a substance which would otherwise cost vast sums of money to dispose of safely.
According to reports by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1997, nine per cent of all water supplies exceed the recommended levels of 1mg of fluoride per litre of water. These and all other exceedances are illegal and impermissible.
Despite all the evidence which now exists about the dangers of fluoride to health, in 35 years of fluoridation, no Irish government has ever carried out a public health survey on its effects, even though it is required to under the 1960 Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act. When asked in a recent interview as to why no such surveys had been carried out, the Minister for Health, Michael Martin said that the population of Ireland was ``too small''.
Don Mac Auley is now convinced that the Irish public is being denied the truth about water fluoridation in this country.
``I now have no doubt there is hidden agenda to reveal as little as possible about fluoridation. At Dental School, you are taught only one side of the story and if dentists don't know the full story, how can our patients be expected to. Water fluoridation is sold as the greatest preventive oral health measure ever devised but the story is biased and the indoctrination manipulative.
``In my view, many dentists continue to endorse fluoridation simply because they do not know the truth. They are not told that the fluoride used here is toxic waste contaminated with arsenic and lead. They are not told there is enough fluoride in a tube of toothpaste to kill a small child or that, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, it is more poisonous than lead. Yet we are expected to accept that a toxic waste diluted in our drinking water is safe.''
Mac Auley has now left his former position and set up in private practice. He acts as an advisor to the Fluoride Free Water Campaign and is determined to educate his patients and colleagues about what he sees as the truth behind fluoridation.
``The whole episode has been both shocking and emotionally draining. It is amazing the lengths that proponents of fluoridation will go to protect this pollutant. If the government continues to mass medicate the Irish public without its consent, it will inevitably have to face up to the consequences. When it does, it is my belief that the bill to the taxpayer will dwarf the army deafness claims.''