Fluoride in our water:
are we brushing with danger?
SPECIAL REPORT - March 29,
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.
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
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
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
ENOUGH IN A TUBE TO KILL
than 70% of Irish people drink fluoridated water. Because people
drink varying amounts, their dosage is completely uncontrolled
1984, Procter and Gamble, manufacturers of Colgate toothpaste,
admitted that a small tube of toothpaste contains enough fluoride
to kill a child. Following a ruling by the US Federal Drugs Administration,
American toothpaste now comes with a warning which states that
if more than a pea-sized amount is swallowed, a Poison Control
Centre must be contacted immediately.
Finland banned fluoridation altogether
when a study in the 1980s revealed that osteoporosis sufferers
had extremely high levels of fluoride in their bones. Ireland
has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world. Compared
to Northern Ireland, where the water is fluoride free, the level
of hip replacements in the Republic is almost 12 times higher.
the 1970s, Dr. Albert Schatz, the scientist who invented the
antibiotic Streptomycin, found that water fluoridation in Latin
America was linked to higher rates of infant mortality and deaths
resulting from congenital malformation. His findings convinced
the Chilean government to abandon fluoridation for good.
to the World Health Organisation, the Republic of Ireland ranks
sixth in terms of dental health in Europe. The five other countries
with better teeth quality do not add fluoride to their water.
Department of Health insists that fluoridation should continue
because the benefits outweigh the risks. It argues that the level
of fluoride in Irish water carry no danger to the consumer. It
claims that the process is cost-effective and in the best interests
of children, especially those from low socio-economic backgrounds
whose families may not understand the importance of dental hygiene.
a group of more than 20 people who suffer from fluorosis is preparing
legal proceedings against the Department of Health seeking compensation
for damage to their teeth. This figure is expected to grow before
the year is out.
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
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
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.''
copyright Irish Independent, 2000