In the most recent edition of the Town-Crier, considerable coverage was given to the decision by Wellington Village Council to discontinue fluoridation of Wellington’s water supply. Village resident Tracey Powers expressed concerns that fluoride might reduce IQs of Wellington citizens. Based on the bizarre reasons she gives for her anti-fluoridation position and the befuddled comments of some of our council members, she may have a point that something is addling brains around here.
The practice of fluoridation of municipal water supplies has been in place in the United States since Grand Rapids, Mich., initiated the practice in 1945. Today, about 74 percent of the country’s population drink from taps supplied with fluoridated water. Health professionals estimate that there has been a 20 to 40 percent reduction in incidence of tooth decay because of this public health practice. The standard U.S. protocol is to supplement drinking water with 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride. This concentration has never been shown to correlate with any adverse health impact in any of the 50 U.S. epidemiological studies on the subject.
Ms. Powers refers to the fluoride as a “drug” in our water. Oh, please. Fluoride additive in our water is no more a “drug” than iodine in our table salt (≥ 15 ppm) or folate added to breads and cereals.
To further her position, Ms. Powers claims that there are “hundreds of scientific studies that say that fluoride reduces IQs in children.” Actually, there is one study that is the basis for this claim. It is out of Harvard University and it is what we refer to in the scientific literature as a “meta-analysis” or robust review of previously published research. Sophisticated statistical procedures are used to find trends across a panel of experiments reported by other workers. The Harvard authors did not do the actual research but examined 25 papers, 23 of which were from China. They concluded that when communities in China used drinking water with very high naturally occurring levels of fluoride (in the range of 7 ppm or about 7 times the concentration used as an additive in the U.S.), a drop of about 7 IQ points was found, compared to the control group.
This might seem of concern at first glance, but if you go to the original papers (which we geeky scientists have an annoying habit of doing), you see striking numbers. The control group, that is, the group with the higher IQs, were drinking from water sources with a fluoride concentration of 0.8 ppm, right in the range used to fluoridate U.S. water systems! And what’s more, the adults in the communities with the high fluoride levels actually had a statistically significant increase in longevity over those in the control or lower fluoride group.
The authors of the Harvard study made this statement concerning the use of their own work: “These results do not allow us to make any judgment regarding possible levels of risk at levels of exposure typical for water fluoridation in the U.S.” If they can’t, why are Ms. Powers and three of our council members confident they can?
Recently the city of Wichita, Kan., had a referendum on the ballot to discontinue fluoride use in the city’s drinking water. Our Harvard scientists wrote to Wichita’s daily newspaper, urging voters to not vote for elimination of fluoridation, stating that their study was insufficient to overcome the obvious health benefits from fluoridation. I’m sure they would have the same things to say to Wellington.
That Ms. Powers may be led astray by the anti-fluoride conspiracy theories out there may not be all that surprising. After all, 30 percent of Americans believe Sasquatch lives! But the policy decision of three of our council members is something else, indeed. They voted to discontinue fluoridation despite the informed advice of health professionals in attendance, as well as the official stance of the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General. This is not a matter of locating the village tennis courts, but a matter of the health and well-being of our residents, young and old. We deserve better. Shame on you.
Ken Pernezny, PhD., Wellington