essay originally appeared in the January 1993 issue of The
I confess: I'm a veteran anti-fluoridationist, thereby
not for the first time risking placing myself in the camp
of "right-wing kooks and fanatics." It has always been a bit of
mystery to me why left-environmentalists, who shriek in horror
at a bit of Alar on apples, who cry "cancer" even more absurdly
than the boy cried "Wolf," who hate every chemical additive known
to man, still cast their benign approval upon fluoride, a highly
toxic and probably carcinogenic substance. And not only let fluoride
emissions off the hook, but endorse uncritically the massive and
continuing dumping of fluoride into the nation's water supply.
the generalized case for and against fluoridation of water. The
case for is almost incredibly thin, boiling down to the alleged
fact of substantial reductions in dental cavities in kids aged
5 to 9. Period. There are no claimed benefits for anyone older
than nine! For this the entire adult population of a fluoridated
area must be subjected to mass medication!
case against, even apart from the specific evils of fluoride,
is powerful and overwhelming.
Compulsory mass medication is medically evil, as well as socialistic.
It is starkly clear that one key to any medication is control
of the dose; different people, at different stages of risk,
need individual dosages tailored to their needs. And yet with
water compulsorily fluoridated, the dose applies to everyone,
and is necessarily proportionate to the amount of water one drinks.
is the medical justification for a guy who drinks ten glasses
of water a day receiving ten times the fluorine dose of a guy
who drinks only one glass? The whole process is monstrous as well
Adults, in fact children over nine, get no benefits from their
compulsory medication, yet they imbibe fluorides proportionately
to their water intake.
Studies have shown that while kids 5 to 9 may have their cavities
reduced by fluoridation, said kids ages 9 to 12 have more
cavities, so that after 12 the cavity benefits disappear. So that,
at best, the question boils down to: are we to subject
ourselves to the possible dangers of fluoridation solely
to save dentists the irritation of dealing with squirming kids
aged 5 to 9?
Any parents who want to give their kids the dubious benefits of
fluoridation can do so individually: by giving their kids
fluoride pills, with doses regulated instead of haphazardly proportionate
to the kids' thirst; and/or, as we all know, they can brush their
teeth with fluoride-added toothpaste. How about freedom of individual
Let us not omit the long-suffering taxpayer, who has to pay for
the hundreds of thousands of tons of fluorides poured into the
nation's socialized water supply every year. The days of private
water companies, once flourishing in the U.S., are long gone,
although the market, in recent years, has popped up in the form
of increasingly popular private bottled water even though far
more expensive than socialized free water.
loony or kooky about any of these arguments, is there? So much
for the general case pro and con fluoridation. When we get to
the specific ills of fluoridation, the case against becomes even
more overpowering, as well as grisly.
the 1940s and 50s, when the successful push for fluoridation was
underway, the pro-forces touted the controlled experiment of Newburgh
and Kingston, two neighboring small cities in upstate New York,
with much the same demographics. Newburgh had been fluoridated
and Kingston had not, and the powerful pro-fluoridation Establishment
trumpeted the fact that ten years later, dental cavities in kids
5 to 9 in Newburgh were considerably lower than in Kingston (originally,
the rates of every disease had been about the same in the two
places). OK, but the antis raised the disquieting fact that, after
ten years, both the cancer and the heart disease rates were now
significantly higher in Newburgh. How did the Establishment treat
this criticism? By dismissing it as irrelevant, as kooky
scare tactics. Oh?
were these and later problems and charges ignored and overridden,
and why the rush to judgment to inflict fluoridation on America?
Who was behind this drive, and how did the opponents acquire the
"right-wing kook" image?
THE DRIVE FOR FLUORIDATION
official drive began abruptly just before the end of World War
II, pushed by the U.S. Public Health Service, then in the Treasury
Department. In 1945, the federal government selected two Michigan
cities to conduct an official "15-year" study; one city, Grand
Rapids, was fluoridated, a control city was left unfluoridated.
(I am indebted to a recent revisionist article on fluoridation
by the medical writer Joel Griffiths, in the left-wing muckraking
journal Covert Action Information Bulletin: "Fluoride:
Commie Plot or Capitalist Ploy?" [Fall 1992], pp. 2628,
6366.) Yet, before five years were up, the government killed
its own "scientific study," by fluoridating the water in the second
city in Michigan. Why? Under the excuse that its action was caused
by "popular demand" for fluoridation; as we shall see, the "popular
demand" was generated by the government and the Establishment
itself. Indeed, as early as 1946, under the federal campaign,
six American cities fluoridated their water, and 87 more joined
the bandwagon by 1950.
key figure in the successful drive for fluoridation was Oscar
R. Ewing, who was appointed by President Truman in 1947 as head
of the Federal Security Agency, which encompassed the Public Health
Service (PHS), and which later blossomed into our beloved Cabinet
office of Health, Education, and Welfare. One reason for the left's
backing of fluoridation in addition to its being socialized
medicine and mass medication, for them a good in itself
was that Ewing was a certified Truman Fair Dealer and leftist,
and avowed proponent of socialized medicine, a high official in
the then-powerful Americans for Democratic Action, the nation's
central organization of "anti-Communist liberals" (read: Social
Democrats or Mensheviks). Ewing mobilized not only the respectable
left but also the Establishment Center. The powerful drive for
compulsory fluoridation was spearheaded by the PHS, which soon
mobilized the nation's establishment organizations of dentists
mobilization, the national clamor for fluoridation, and the stamping
of opponents with the right-wing kook image, was all generated
by the public relations man hired by Oscar Ewing to direct the
drive. For Ewing hired none other than Edward L. Bernays, the
man with the dubious honor of being called the "father of public
relations." Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, was called "The
Original Spin Doctor" in an admiring article in the Washington
Post on the occasion of the old manipulator's 100th birthday
in late 1991. The fact that right-wing groups such as the John
Birch Society correctly called fluoridation "creeping socialism"
and blamed Soviet Communism as the source of the fluoridation
campaign (no, not Bolsheviks, guys: but a Menshevik-State
Capitalist alliance, see below) was used by the Bernaysians to
discredit all the opposition.
a retrospective scientific article pointed out about the fluoridation
movement, one of its widely distributed dossiers listed opponents
of fluoridation "in alphabetical order reputable scientists, convicted
felons, food faddists, scientific organizations, and the Ku Klux
Klan." (Bette Hileman, "Fluoridation of Water," Chemical and
Engineering News 66 [August 1, 1988], p. 37; quoted in Griffiths,
p. 63) In his 1928 book Propaganda,
Bernays laid bare the devices he would use: Speaking of the "mechanism
which controls the public mind," which people like himself could
manipulate, Bernays added that "Those who manipulate the unseen
mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which
is the true ruling power of our country...our minds are molded,
our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have
never heard of..." And the process of manipulating leaders of
groups, "either with or without their conscious cooperation,"
will "automatically influence" the members of such groups.
describing his practices as PR man for Beech-Nut Bacon, Bernays
tells how he would suggest to physicians to say publicly that
"it is wholesome to eat bacon." For, Bernays added, he "knows
as a mathematical certainty that large numbers of persons will
follow the advice of their doctors because he (the PR man) understands
the psychological relationship of dependence of men on their physicians."
(Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda [New York: Liveright, 1928],
pp. 9, 18, 49, 53. Quoted in Griffiths, p.63) Add "dentists" to
the equation, and substitute "fluoride" for "bacon," and we have
the essence of the Bernays propaganda campaign.
the Bernays campaign, fluoride was largely known in the public
mind as the chief ingredient of bug and rat poison; after the
campaign, it was widely hailed as a safe provider of healthy teeth
and gleaming smiles.
the 1950s, it was all mopping up the fluoridation forces
had triumphed, and two-thirds of the nation's reservoirs were
fluoridated. There are still benighted areas of the country left
however (California is less than 16 percent fluoridated) and the
goal of the federal government and its PHS remains as "universal
the blitzkrieg victory, however, doubts have surfaced and gathered
in the scientific community. Fluoride is a non-biodegradable substance,
which, in people, accumulates in teeth and bone perhaps
strengthening kiddies' teeth; but what about human bones? Two
crucial bone problems of fluorides brittleness and cancer
began to appear in studies, only to be systematically blocked
by governmental agencies. As early as 1956, a federal study found
nearly twice as many premalignant bone defects in young males
in Newbergh as in unfluoridated Kingston; but this finding was
quickly dismissed as "spurious."
enough, despite the 1956 study and carcinogenic evidence popping
up since the 1940s, the federal government never conducted its
own beloved animal carcinogenicity test on fluorides. Finally,
in 1975, biochemist John Yiamouyiannis and Dean Berk, a retired
official of the federal government's own National Cancer Institute
(NCI), presented a paper before the annual meeting of the American
Society of Biological Chemists. The paper reported a 5 to 10 percent
increase in total cancer rates in those U.S. cities which had
fluoridated their water. The findings were disputed, but triggered
congressional hearings two years later, where the government revealed
to shocked Congressmen that it had never tested fluoride for cancer.
Congress ordered the NCI to conduct such tests.
about foot-dragging! Incredibly, it took the NCI twelve years
to finish its tests, finding "equivocal evidence" that fluoride
caused bone cancer in male rats. Under further direction of Congress,
the NCI studied cancer trends in the U.S., and found nationwide
evidence of "a rising rate of bone and joint cancer at all ages,"
especially in youth, in counties that had fluoridated their water,
but no such rise was seen in "non-fluoridated" counties.
more detailed studies, for areas of Washington state and Iowa,
NCI found that from the 1970s to the 1980s bone cancer for males
under 20 had increased by 70 percent in the fluoridated areas
of these states, but had decreased by 4 percent in the
non-fluoridated areas. Sounds pretty conclusive to me, but the
NCI set some fancy statisticians to work on the data, to conclude
that these findings, too, were "spurious." Dispute over this report
drove the federal government to one of its favorite ploys in virtually
every area: the allegedly expert, bipartisan, "value-free" commission.
government had already done the commission bit in 1983, when disturbing
studies on fluoridation drove our old friend the PHS to form a
commission of "world-class experts" to review safety data on fluorides
in water. Interestingly, the panel found to its grave concern
that most of the alleged evidence of fluoride's safety scarcely
existed. The 1983 panel recommended caution on fluoride exposure
for children. Interestingly, the panel strongly recommended that
the fluoride content of drinking water be no greater than two
parts per million for children up to nine, because of worries
about the fluoride effect on children's skeletons, and potential
chairman of the panel, Jay R. Shapiro of the National Institute
of Health, warned the members, however, that the PHS might "modify"
the findings, since "the report deals with sensitive political
issues." Sure enough, when Surgeon General Everett Koop released
the official report a month later, the federal government had
thrown out the panel's most important conclusions and recommendations,
without consulting the panel. Indeed, the panel never received
copies of the final, doctored, version. The government's alterations
were all in a pro-fluoride direction, claiming that there was
no "scientific documentation" of any problems at fluoride levels
below 8 parts per million.
addition to the bone cancer studies for the late 1980s, evidence
is piling up that fluorides lead to bone fractures. In the past
two years, no less than eight epidemiological studies have indicated
the fluoridation has increased the rate of bone fractures in males
and females of all ages. Indeed, since 1957, the bone fracture
rate among male youth has increased sharply in the United States,
and the U.S. hip fracture rate is now the highest in the world.
In fact, a study in the traditionally pro-fluoride Journal of
the American Medical Association (JAMA), August
12, 1992, found that even "low levels of fluoride may increase
the risk of hip fracture in the elderly." JAMA concluded
that "it is now appropriate to revisit the issue of water fluoridation."
it was high time for another federal commission. During 199091,
a new commission, chaired by veteran PHS official and long-time
pro-fluoridationist Frank E. Young, predictably concluded that
"no evidence" was found associating fluoride and cancer. On bone
fractures, the commission blandly stated that "further studies
are required." But no further studies or soul-searching were needed
for its conclusion: "The U.S. Public Health Service should continue
to support optimal fluoridation of drinking water." Presumably,
they did not conclude that "optimal" meant zero.
the Young whitewash, doubts are piling up even within the federal
government. James Huff, a director of the U.S. National Institute
of Environmental Health Sciences, concluded in 1992 that animals
in the government's study developed cancer, especially bone cancer
from being given fluoride and there was nothing "equivocal"
about his conclusion.
scientists for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have
turned to anti-fluoridation toxicologist William Marcus's warning
that fluoride causes not just cancer, but also bone fractures,
arthritis, and other disease. Marcus mentions, too, that an unreleased
study by the New Jersey Health Department (a state where only
15 percent of the population is fluoridated) shows that the bone
cancer rate among young males is no less than six times higher
in fluoridated than in non-fluoridated areas.
coming into question is the long-sacred idea that fluoridated
water at least lowers cavities in children five to nine. Various
top pro-fluoridationists highly touted for their expertise were
suddenly and bitterly condemned when further study led them to
the conclusion that the dental benefits are really negligible.
New Zealand's most prominent pro-fluoridationist was the country's
top dental officer, Dr. John Colquhoun.
chairman of the Fluoridation Promotion Committee, Colquhoun decided
to gather statistics to show doubters the great merits of fluoridation.
To his shock, he found that the percentage of children free of
dental decay was higher in the non-fluoridated part than
in the fluoridated part of New Zealand. The national health department
refused to allow Colquhoun to publish these findings, and kicked
him out as dental director. Similarly, a top pro-fluoridationist
in British Columbia, Canada, Richard G. Foulkes, concluded that
fluoridation is not only dangerous, but that it is not even effective
in reducing tooth decay. Foulkes was denounced by former colleagues
as a propagandist "promoting the quackery of anti-fluoridationists."
WHY THE FLUORIDATION DRIVE?
the case for compulsory fluoridation is so flimsy, and the case
against so overwhelming, the final step is to ask: why? Why did
the Public Health Service get involved in the first place? How
did this thing get started? Here we must keep our eye on the pivotal
role of Oscar R. Ewing, for Ewing was far more than just a social
democrat Fair Dealer.
has long been recognized as one of the most toxic elements found
in the earth's crust. Fluorides are by-products of many industrial
processes, being emitted in the air and water, and probably the
major source of this by-product is the aluminum industry. By the
1920s and 1930s, fluorine was increasingly being subject to lawsuits
and regulations. In particular, by 1938 the important, relatively
new aluminum industry was being placed on a wartime footing. What
to do if its major by-product is a dangerous poison?
time had come for damage control; even better, to reverse the
public image of this menacing substance. The Public Health Service,
remember was under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department,
and treasury secretary all during the 1920s and until 1931 was
none other than billionaire Andrew J. Mellon, founder and head
of the powerful Mellon interests, "Mr. Pittsburgh," and founder
and virtual ruler of the Aluminum Corporation of America (ALCOA),
the dominant firm in the aluminum industry.
1931, the PHS sent a dentist named H. Trendley Dean to the West
to study the effects of concentrations of naturally fluoridated
water on people's teeth. Dean found that towns high in natural
fluoride seemed to have fewer cavities. This news galvanized various
Mellon scientists into action. In particular, the Mellon Institute,
ALCOA's research lab in Pittsburgh, sponsored a study in which
biochemist Gerald J. Cox fluoridated some lab rats, decided that
cavities in those rats had been reduced and immediately concluded
that "the case (that fluoride reduces cavities) should be regarded
as proved." Instant science!
following year, 1939, Cox, the ALCOA scientist working for a company
beset by fluoride damage claims, made the first public proposal
for mandatory fluoridation of water. Cox proceeded to stump the
country urging fluoridation. Meanwhile, other ALCOA-funded scientists
trumpeted the alleged safety of fluorides, in particular the Kettering
Laboratory of the University of Cincinnati.
World War II, damage claims for fluoride emissions piled up as
expected, in proportion to the great expansion of aluminum production
during the war. But attention from these claims was diverted,
when, just before the end of the war, the PHS began to push hard
for compulsory fluoridation of water. Thus the drive for compulsory
fluoridation of water accomplished two goals in one shot: it transformed
the image of fluorine from a curse to a blessing that will strengthen
every kid's teeth, and it provided a steady and substantial monetary
demand for fluorides to dump annually into the nation's water.
interesting footnote to this story is that whereas fluorine in
naturally fluoridated water comes in the form of calcium
fluoride, the substance dumped into every locality is instead
sodium fluoride. The Establishment defense that "fluoride
is fluoride" becomes unconvincing when we consider two points:
(a) calcium is notoriously good for bones and teeth, so the anti-cavity
effect in naturally fluoridated water might well be due to the
calcium and not the fluorine; and (b) sodium fluoride happens
to be the major by-product of the manufacture of aluminum.
brings us to Oscar R. Ewing. Ewing arrived in Washington in 1946,
shortly after the initial PHS push began, arriving there as long-time
counsel, now chief counsel, for ALCOA, making what was then an
astronomical legal fee of $750,000 a year (something like $7,000,000
a year in present dollars). A year later, Ewing took charge of
the Federal Security Agency, which included the PHS, and waged
the successful national drive for water fluoridation. After a
few years, having succeeded in his campaign, Ewing stepped down
from public service, and returned to private life, including his
chief counselship of the Aluminum Corporation of America.
is an instructive lesson in this little saga, a lesson how and
why the Welfare State came to America. It came as an alliance
of three major forces: ideological social democrats, ambitious
technocratic bureaucrats, and Big Businessmen seeking privileges
from the State. In the fluoridation saga, we might call the whole
process "ALCOA-socialism." The Welfare State redounds to the welfare
not of most of society but of these particular venal and exploitative
Ed.: See also, from 2005, Fluoride
Follies by Donald W. Miller, MD.