January, 29, 2001

New studies suggest that the use of untested silicofluoride in water systems may have links to antisocial behavior in youth. And there's plenty more in the water system, too.

The social engineers who know what's good for us have been shoving fluoridated water down our throats for about 50 years. Old arguments against the use of fluoride in public water supplies may have winged in from the fringe?the John Birchers of the early 1960s opposed it as mass medication and chemical poison?but new findings could prove opponents have been right all along, at least to the extent that fluoride is harmful to health. The substance is, after all, poisonous in small doses; a teaspoonful of the pure stuff can kill.

Nobody ingests fluoride by the spoonful, of course. But studies in recent years have indicated a link between the extraordinarily minuscule amounts of fluoride in fluoridated water and youthful antisocial behavior including crime, drug use, violence and poor academic showing. New research that will bolster those findings and undoubtedly further rock the profluoride boat is about to be published, Insight has learned.

Recent research indicates that some chemicals used in fluoridation may alter the body's natural defenses against toxic heavy metals, particularly lead. Absorption of lead can cause hyperactivity and violent behavior, while manganese has been associated with depression and violence. It's quite possible, researchers suggest, that cravings for nonprescription drugs such as alcohol and cocaine are enhanced in the same way. The researchers say the brain may crave such drugs to thwart harmful effects brought on by ingestion of fluoride.

Most Americans whose water is fluoridated (more than 140 million of us) receive supplies treated with silicofluoride. This superstar of the fluoride chemical family is produced as a byproduct when potash is broken down to make fertilizer or, perhaps more ominously, to process uranium for nuclear power?plant fuel and nuclear weapons. Silicofluoride is not the same as sodium fluoride, the form of the chemical used in fluoridated toothpaste; silicofluoride is an untested substitute for the better?known sodium fluoride.

Most health authorities appear to be on the fluoride bandwagon. Fluoridation has been called the "greatest benefit to public health of the 20th century" by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. His assessment is supported by proponents that include the American Dental Association, the World Health Organization, the U .S. Public Health Service, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Cancer Society, to name a few.

Satcher has called for more fluoridation because, according to his recent "Oral Health in America" report, 18,000 communities and 40 million children in the United States go without fluoridated water despite a 50?year effort to saturate America with it. That is, we need more because we don't have enough.

But why do we need any of it? Conventional wisdom, as endorsed by proponents, is that fluoridation is a modern miracle in the fight against tooth decay. They contend that silicofluoride breaks down in water and so does good for teeth without being ingested.

That upbeat assessment is not shared by all experts, but critics are vastly outgunned in an attempt to get a sympathetic ear from the media or legislators. This summer, in what fluoride critics termed the first scientific discussion of fluoride before Congress in 23 years, Sen. Bob Smith, R? N.H., and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee he heads heard testimony for and against fluoridation.

A primary complaint expressed by critics is that silicofluoride is untested. In a recent letter to Roger Masters, a key player in the fluoride debate and research professor at Dartmouth College, relevant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laboratories recently admitted they were unable to find any data about the effects of silicofluoride on health and behavior. Masters, also Nelson Rockefeller Professor of Government Emeritus, has focused his studies in recent years on the effects of toxic chemicals. In this work, funded by the EPA and the Earhart Foundation, he was joined by chemical engineer Myron Coplan in studying the behavioral and health effects of silicofluoride?treated water.

"Our research shows that where silicofluoride is used, children have higher blood?lead levels;' Masters says in a lengthy interview with Insight. "Lead damages brain chemistry," he adds. There seems to be no dispute in the scientific and medical communities about links between lead poisoning and crime, learning disabilities, hyperactivity and substance abuse. However, Masters' theory about the part played by silicofluoride in breaking down the body's resistance to heavy metals such as lead is highly controversial and even dismissed out of hand by some experts.

"Toxic metals like lead, manganese, copper and cadmium damage neurons and deregulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are essential to normal impulse control and learning," Masters and Coplan found. The toxin can be absorbed from many sources, including lead paint, old plumbing or pollution. Despite efforts to reduce exposure to lead, substantial numbers of children continue to suffer from blood lead above what scientists consider to be the danger level.

Why? There probably are a variety of reasons, but Masters and Coplan found that "behaviors associated with lead neurotoxicity are more frequent it communities using silicofluoride than in comparable localities that do not use the chemical."

Masters concedes that his finding: are "empirical" and might be qualified by further research. But, he says, with silicofluoride being dispensed as mass medicine to fight tooth decay the cautions that apply to medicine; should apply to this chemical. "Our children are too important" for testing to be neglected, as it has been for 50 years, he says. "In order to put a chemical as toxic as this in the water supply, you've got to be sure that what the theorists say happens doesn't really happen. If there's a risk as serious as our numbers show, stop using the stuff until it's tested."

What sort of testing is needed? "You would need lots and lots of experiments to nail down all the possibly connections," Masters tells Insight "You need to look at combinations of things that can have a big effect on brain chemistry, on behavior."

And how about at the individual level? What can a concerned parent or other consumer do to determine whether harmful effects are resulting from fluoride consumption? Master suggests "head?hair analysis,"process assessing bodily levels of toxic ins and other chemicals that cost about $30. "Also, you can have you water tested for toxins."

Masters has made recent visits to Washington to consult with congressional staffers who may play a role in bringing about more public hearings on fluoridation. His efforts are part of a larger campaign for a re?examination of fluoride policy bringing together an odd alliance ranging from the John Birch Society on the right to holistic healers in the middle and the enviroradicals on the extreme left.

Which brings us back to the conspiracy theories that emerged in the early days of the fluoride flap. Complete bunk? Well, Masters isn't saying that. "There's something funny here. It's not foolish to suspect the communists. I have in my files an affidavit from a young man who said that in 1937?38, as a member of the Young Communist League in Wisconsin, he was part of plan to put fluoride in the American water supply to pacify the public. It's an affidavit; it could be true, it could be false, but it's consistent with the fact that Stalin used fluoride and other poisons in his gulag."

Masters also notes that fluoridation became all the rage coincident with development of the atomic bomb. Is there a tie?in? Could it be that in the Cold War atmosphere, with spies eager for atomic secrets, the powers that be decided to mask the production of large quantities of silicofluoride, a byproduct of nuclear fuel, in a national campaign against tooth decay? There's no proof one way or the other, Masters says.

But here we are, 50 years later, with the flow of fluoride into our water systems and bodies encouraged by cheerleaders at all levels of the medicine, academia and government, with the full support of a media brass band. Do opponents have the slightest chance of turning the tide? Masters mentions major papers and articles that are forthcoming to substantiate his views, and he is calling for a comprehensive review of the subject by a panel of experts outside government.

There are other indications that fluoride opponents are gaining recognition. At EPA headquarters, for instance, a unit of the Union of Scientists has been very outspoken in disputing the value of fluoridation. Other critics are raising issues that will be difficult to ignore. Some even are contemplating fairly aggressive approaches: One of several Internet sites hosted by opponents suggests that public officials should be sued for practicing medicine without a license.