The Fluoridation Question Revisited

Municipalities and other water providers throughout the United States – and the general public they serve – are universally concerned about the amount of industrial chemicals, toxic metals, carcinogens, pesticides, and pollutants present in the drinking water supply. On the surface, it seems rather strange to add foreign substances to drinking water other than what is necessary to purify and improve the water. Yet, beginning with the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945, fluoride – a highly toxic substance – has been added to the drinking water supply by a great number of water utilities. If there is any doubt about the toxicity of fluoride, just look at the warning label on a typical tube of toothpaste: “Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.” Yet, because scientists, “experts,” and the government touted the supposed benefits of fluoride in strengthening tooth enamel and preventing cavities, this non-biodegradable, toxic substance that accumulates in teeth and bone has been added to drinking water supplies for sixty years. Although most European countries do not fluoridate their water, and only about 10 percent of the drinking water in Great Britain is fluoridated, upwards of 70 percent of Americans are affected by fluoridation of the water supply. Only a reverse osmosis system will remove the added fluoride from water. Critics of libertarians and their philosophy of more liberty and less government, because they can’t answer the philosophical arguments for liberty, have historically used fluoridation to discredit libertarianism by lumping it together with what many consider to be right-wing, anti-fluoridation conspiracy kooks – kooks who prefer to drink their water without toxic chemicals. Fluoride opponents were mocked in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove. However, things have changed in the last fifteen or so years. Many cities have outlawed the addition of fluoride to drinking water. In 2005, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) asked the National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to list fluoride in tap water in its authoritative Report on Carcinogens. In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the EPA lower the maximum allowable level of fluoride in drinking water. The academy’s report warned severe fluorosis, a disorder resulting from the absorption of too much flourine, could occur at 2 parts per million. And a majority of the report’s authors said a lifetime of drinking water with fluoride at 4 parts per million or higher could raise the risk of broken bones. And now, for the first time in fifty years, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has lowered the recommended level for fluoride in drinking water to 0.7 mg/L. Fluoridation opponents are now looking to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lower its legal limit on fluoride in drinking water which currently stands at 4 mg/L or 4 ppm – more than five times the new HHS maximum. Practically speaking, adding fluoride to drinking water just doesn’t make any sense. First, fluoridation of water is expensive. The cost is in the millions of dollars, and since people always use water, the costs will not only continue indefinitely, they are certain to escalate. It would be cheaper for the water authorities to pay for fillings in the mouths of children who get cavities. Second, fluoridation of water is inefficient. Most of the water Americans use in their homes goes into sinks, toilets, showers, washing machines, and dishwashers, not to mention its use on lawns and cars. Buying bottled water further ensures that almost all of the treated water goes down the drain. Third, fluoridation of water is wasteful. It is not teenagers and adults whose teeth supposedly benefit from fluoride, only children. Therefore, most of the fluoride is wasted anyway. Fourth, fluoridation of water is paternalistic. It is parents – not a nanny state – that are supposed to look after their children’s teeth, hair, fingernails, toenails, bones, muscles, diet, and exercise. Fifth, fluoridation of water is coercive. Everyone who lives in a particular locality with fluoridated water must pay for it, whether he wants it or not, even if he has no children or no teeth. As usual, the taxpayers have no say in the matter. Sixth, fluoridation of water is dangerous. Although the current standard for fluoridated water is 4 mg/L, the amount of fluoride actually received could be too much or too little depending on how much water one drank. Someone who drinks eight glasses of water a day is getting eight times the fluoride of someone who drinks one glass of water a day. For a drug to be effective, the dosage must be controlled and tailored to individual needs. Seventh, fluoridation of water is trivial. Although multitudes have died from the adverse effects of alcohol and tobacco, to my knowledge no one has ever died from a cavity – aren’t the government’s health concerns a little misplaced? And eighth, fluoridation of water is unnecessary. If getting fluoride onto the teeth of children has any health benefit, it can be accomplished by means other than forcing the rest of the population to imbibe fluoride. Things like toothpaste and mouthwash fortified with fluoride, fluoride treatments, and fluoride supplements. Some bottled water and other drinks contain fluoride. Opponents of fluoridation would add that fluoride in drinking water can cause cancer, bone abnormalities, brittle bones, bone fractures, arthritis, dental fluorosis, neurotoxicity, hormone disruption, the erosion of tooth enamel, and tooth discoloration, streaking, spottiness, and pitting. Proponents of fluoridation are limited to arguments about how it benefits children’s teeth. Both proponents and opponents of fluoridation can cite numerous peer-reviewed studies to support their position. But the pros and cons of fluoridating the water supply merely cloud the issue. The issue here is the proper role of government in the family and society. It is simply not the business of government to be involved in any way with the prevention and treatment of any medical condition. And since it is local governments that indirectly mandate or directly undertake the fluoridation of drinking water, this issue shows a dark side to local governments that we don’t often see because of our focus on the relentless assault on our liberties by the federal government. The case against adding fluoride to drinking water has nothing to do with its costs exceeding its benefits, its dubious health claims, its harmful effects, or the need for local governments to trim unnecessary expenses. It has everything to do with tyranny, paternalism, socialism, and crony capitalism. If it is the business of government to look after our teeth, then where do you draw the line? Certainly it would be more important to our health and well being if the government protected our brains from bad movies and pictures, our muscles from lack of exercise, our lungs from smoking, our livers from alcohol, and our hearts from stress. But even if fluoride really did strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities, even if “community water fluoridation is an equitable, cost-effective, and cost-saving method of delivering fluoride to most people,” as Dr. William Maas, director of Center’s for Disease Control’s Division of Oral Health believes, even if fluoride cured cancer, even if fluoride turned water into the fountain of youth, even if fluoride was determined to be a miracle substance that cured every disease known to man with just one glass of fluoride-fortified water and was provided free to water authorities by chemical companies – it would still not be the job of the government to recommend, provide, mandate, or pay for the fluoridation of drinking water. Government has no business in our wallets or our water. So not only should no fluoride be added to any water supplies in the United States, there should be no data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and no HHS and EPA standards. Indeed, these departments and agencies shouldn’t exist in the first place. Reprinted from The Future of Freedom Foundation.