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Don’t Drink the Water? Author Paul Connett Wants People to Take a Fresh (or First) Look at Fluoridation - Page 3 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Health
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 09 December 2010 05:16

Cracks in the Dam

The Case Against Fluoride was born of what Connett called “14 years of frustration” that began with that village meeting in Canton.

“It’s very difficult to win this argument with sound bites, because the other side is covered with white coats and authority,” he explained. “And so for years, they’ve kept dentists, doctors, scientists, and the media away from the details of the issue, away from the literature. And in place of science, they’re able to substitute endorsements [and] ‘authority,’ and also able to denigrate opponents as junk scientists, etc. ...

“I wanted to write a book that put everything I knew between two covers ... . Anybody that is prepared to read it will see how foolish this practice is and why it needs to be stopped.”

The book is undoubtedly a political document, in the sense that Connett and co-authors James Beck and H.S. Micklem take pains to be accessible to the general reader and aggressive in their argument while also being thorough. In Connett’s view, the book needs to overcome six decades of endorsements – no small task.

His co-authors initially just reviewed his text, but Connett eventually asked them to sign on as co-authors and take a more active role. While he said the book is stronger as a result of their contributions, there was a second motive: “If it’s just my name on it, they’ll find a way of putting me into a box and then throwing the box away. ... I’m just the one crazy person out there who is opposed to fluoridation. ‘Get rid of Connett and you get rid of the argument.’ I said, ‘They’re going to ... find it very difficult if there’s three of us. One from Canada, one from Scotland, and one from the United States; one a biologist, one a chemist, and one a physicist.’”

Yet Connett understands that his book isn’t enough. The Case Against Fluoride encourages skepticism of the “official” perspectives on fluoridation, and it’s only fair to apply the same level of scrutiny to his arguments and his interpretation of the science and the facts.

In that way, one measure of success for The Case Against Fluoride is whether it engages the public- and dental-health communities in a genuine debate about fluoridation. The book requires a response so readers can see for themselves whether Connett and his co-authors are guilty of the same sins they pin on fluoridation advocates.

“We make it clear that we’ve read the literature, we think it’s a bad idea, and we’re explaining why we think it’s a bad idea,” Connett said. “I think they’ve had almost a free ride up to now of getting their arguments across to the public and to the media. ... What I think should happen now is that in a year’s time, we should see a book which is the case for fluoride, where they do their damnedest now to ... either agree with or disagree with every argument in our book, and to document it as thoroughly as we have. And in that wash, then, you will see if we’ve been highly selective in the literature that we’ve chosen.

“Remember: Our task is to show that there are flaws in this practice. ... I’ve sometimes used the analogy that fluoridation is like building a dam above a village. If a villager says, ‘I think I see a crack in your dam,’ it’s not enough to say, ‘Oh, you’re just a peasant’ or ‘You’re just a schoolteacher’ or ‘You’re just a farmer; you’re not an expert on dams, and therefore we can ignore what you say.’ No. They have to respond to every flaw that we’ve seen in their dam structure. They are the ones that are supposed to be completely on top of this practice. This is something that they’re forcing on us. ... It’s they – the ADA and the CDC in particular – who are ... forcing this on people. ... They should be able to answer easily – easily – every argument that we’ve thrown at them. And we’ve thrown at them as many arguments as we could, and now we await their reply.”

But Connett admitted that it’s difficult to reach beyond those already against fluoridation: “When I give talks to communities, by and large the people who are pro-fluoridation don’t show up.”

And that, he said, is a function of the authoritative endorsements: “All these medical associations, all these dental associations, all these government agencies have said that fluoridation is good. Who are we to disagree? ‘Do you really think all these organizations don’t know what they’re talking about, that they would deliberately harm us?’”

Connett doesn’t subscribe to fluoridation conspiracy theories, that the practice was a nefarious effort to hurt the public.

But his book does sketch out a narrative (based heavily on Christopher Bryson’s 2004 book The Fluoride Deception) that explains how fluoridation came about and why it continues: business interests (including the aluminum and phosphate-fertilizer industries that produce large volumes of fluoride waste that’s used for fluoridation, and the sugar industry that wanted a way to reduce tooth decay without reducing sugar in the diet) combined with well-intentioned but poorly designed studies.

But if The Case Against Fluoride plays fair and is accurate, it remains baffling why the ADA and CDC continue to promote fluoridation. Skeptics of the book might find this issue hard to overcome.

The authors’ best explanation concerns liability: “If it is admitted that fluoridation causes any harm, there are lawyers waiting in the wings to sue somebody. Many players might be subject to legal action, such as the fluoridated dental product manufacturers, dental organizations that have endorsed those products, the water utilities that add the fluoride to water, the local councils who are practicing medicine without a license, or the government health agencies that assure everyone that is safe to ingest fluoride.”

Sidebar: The Strange Case of Fluoridation in the Iowa Quad Cities

(Return to the main story.)

If you oppose fluoridation or think that its safety and effectiveness need to be proved beyond a doubt, good luck in stopping the practice in the Quad Cities.

Illinois in 1967 mandated fluoridation of drinking water, meaning that any change would need to happen at the state rather than the local level.

The situation is more complicated in the Iowa Quad Cities. The state of Iowa does not mandate fluoridated drinking water, but local governments served by Iowa American Water would need to act unanimously to stop it.

Dennis J. Alt, a supervisor with the Water Supply Engineering Section of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, wrote in response to an e-mail question: “In Iowa, a public water system, whether it is publicly or privately owned, can choose to add chemicals in order to treat the water. They do not need to receive approval from a unit of government or the people they serve. ... We do not require public water systems to add fluoride, nor do we prohibit it.” (Utilities still need to comply with state and federal drinking-water standards.)

So with a water utility owned by a city government, there would be local control. But when the utility is privately owned – as it is in the Iowa Quad Cities – there isn’t.

This situation was confirmed by the City of Davenport. In a 2007 memo responding to questions raised by Joel Webber, Acting Corporation Counsel Thomas D. Warner wrote: “The City does not have jurisdiction over drinking-water quality and cannot stop fluoridation of the water by the Iowa American Water Company. ... The [federal] Safe Drinking Water Act, the Iowa Code, and the Iowa Administrative Code occupy the field in this area and do not allow the City to assume any jurisdiction over the content of the public drinking water in Davenport.”

Technically speaking, this is true.

However, Iowa American Water claims that it would comply with a request from local government to stop fluoridation. There’s a big catch, though: Such a request would need to come from all the Iowa Quad Cities that Iowa American Water serves.

Lisa M. Reisen, Iowa American Water’s manager of external affairs, provided this statement: “Ceasing fluoridation would require coordination of the cities, the Iowa Utilities Board, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and likely the health department. If we were directed by legislation (local or state), we would comply. Any agreement would have to be unanimous among all the communities served, because we can’t tailor the treatment to individual communities.”

That means there is effectively regional control over fluoridation in the Iowa Quad Cities, but not municipal control.

The issue of why Iowa American Water fluoridates the water in the Iowa Quad Cities lacks a complete answer. Iowa American Water officials cited a 1952 resolution involving the City of Davenport that started fluoridation here but could not say whether other municipalities signed on; Reisen said she could not locate a copy of the resolution. However, it is likely that Riverdale and Bettendorf were also parties; all three cities began having their water fluoridated on July 27, 1952, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Reisen wrote that the company has no record of a community request for fluoridation beyond that resolution from 58 years ago.

And when asked whether the company regularly surveys the communities it serves about its fluoridation preferences, Reisen wrote: “Iowa American Water distributes an annual water-quality report to all customers and municipalities that clearly shows that we do fluoridate the water.” She added that “fluoridation has not been an issue of concern with our customers or the cities we serve.”

– Jeff Ignatius

(Return to the main story.)

Sidebar: Local Fluoridation

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the water supplied to Davenport, Bettendorf, and Riverdale by Iowa American Water and its forebear has been fluoridated since 1952.

Iowa American Water has provided fluoridated water to LeClaire since 2003. According to Iowa American Water External Affairs Manager Lisa M. Reisen, the company presently serves 142,000 people in the Iowa Quad Cities.

Moline began fluoridating its water supply in 1955, according to Gregory A. Swanson, the city’s utilities general manager. Representatives of neither East Moline nor Rock Island could verify fluoridation prior to a 1967 state law requiring fluoridation.

Iowa American Water and the three major Illinois Quad Cities municipalities presently fluoridate their water with hexafluorosilicic acid purchased from Lucier Chemical Industries.

The product comes from the phosphate-fertilizer industry, and The Case Against Fluoride says the chemical is the “fluoridating agent in over 90 percent of the water supplies fluoridated in the United States.” The book makes an issue of the fact that these chemicals are “not pharmaceutical grade, meaning that they are not of the same purity used in dental products.” It claims that the chemical might cause health problems beyond those caused by fluoride itself.

– Jeff Ignatius

(Return to the main story.)

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