Phoenix decides to continue water fluoridation

“So much fluoride is in the environment now that people are overexposed; so the best thing you can do to support public health is turn off the fluoride at the spigot,” said Dr. William Hirzy.

by Mary Budinger — 

The city of Phoenix was poised to remove fluoride from the tap water of its 1.4 million residents, but when the dust settled on September 11, 2012, the decision was made to continue the status quo.

Councilman Tom Simplot originally raised the issue of whether or not the city should continue to spend $582,000 per year adding fluoride to the water. “Science evolves, and if we have not studied this for 20 years, we should make sure science has not passed us by,” Simplot told the Arizona Republic. “In light of our budget issues, let’s take the time to see if it is a good, continued, wise investment.”

In 2011 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggested lowering the nationwide recommended optimal amount of fluoride in drinking water from 1.2 to 0.7 parts per million (ppm). This was implemented largely because of the landmark 2010 Beltran-Aguilar study, which showed that children are getting too much fluoride and from numerous sources.

The government study showed that 41 percent of children aged 12 to 15 had some level of fluorosis, a discoloration of the teeth and pitting of the enamel. These changes were caused by long-term ingestion of fluoride during the time the teeth were forming. Additionally, a 2006 report from the National Academy of Sciences called for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lower its recommended amount of fluoride, citing serious concerns about bone fractures and dental fluorosis.

Fruits, vegetables and grains are often grown using fluorinated water (this process tends to concentrate it). One study found that cereals processed in a fluoridated area had fluoride concentrations ranging from 3.8 ppm to 6.3 ppm. The fluoride content of tea has been found to average about 3.0 ppm. Fluoride is also a significant ingredient in commonly prescribed anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac®.

“So much fluoride is in the environment now that people are overexposed; so the best thing you can do to support public health is turn off the fluoride at the spigot,” said Dr. William Hirzy, former senior EPA Senior Scientist at the Risk Assessment Division, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Substances. “There is much better correlation between poverty and dental decay than not fluoridating and dental decay. Your money is better spent giving out fluoride toothpaste. This is tragic policy inertia because a lot of reputations are at stake.”

Dr. Hirzy was brought to the meeting by Phoenix resident Jody Clute who has led the charge against continued fluoridation. Clute has a thyroid disorder that she believes is exacerbated by fluoride. “If people want fluoride, they can get it very easily with toothpastes and mouthwashes,” Clute said. “But when you put it in the water, we don’t have a choice. Carbon filters cannot remove fluoride. There is no need to continue fluoridation anymore.”

Most Arizona water supplies already contain some level of naturally occurring fluoride. In Casa Grande, for example, the naturally occurring level was so high in 2010 that the city was in violation of EPA standards. The city of Carefree does not add fluoride, and they have a rate of naturally occurring fluoride of about 0.91 ppm — already higher than the 0.7 ppm threshold standard. The city of Scottsdale does not add fluoride, and they claim that their water sources contain naturally occurring fluoride levels, ranging from 0.3 to 1.0 ppm. Flagstaff does not add fluoride and voters have rejected the issue three times since 1954. In the city of Page, fluoridation was firmly voted down in 2006. Overall, 56.7 percent of Arizona residents currently using community water systems receive fluoridated water.

When the Phoenix Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee met on September 11, 2012, to decide whether or not to continue fluoridation, it was the first time the procedure had been questioned since it was voted on by the City Council in 1989 in an 8-to-1 vote. The subcommittee scheduled two presentations, both of which were pro-fluoridation. Councilman Jim Waring said he did not feel both sides got equal time.

“Fluoridation is one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century,” Dr. Howard Pollick of the University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry told the subcommittee as he encouraged members to continue fluoridation.

“Fluoridation is safe, it saves money and it works — that is the bottom line, take-home message,” Will Humble, Director for the Arizona Department of Health Services, told the subcommittee.

Anti-fluoridation residents forfeited their two minutes of public comment to make time for the presentation by Dr. Hirzy, who testified about the toxic makeup of the chemical mixture used in fluoridation.

Fluoridation, as described by its proponents, is the adjustment of the existing natural fluoride concentration in water to the level desired to deter cavities. Dr. Hirzy explained that the fluoride compound added to Phoenix city drinking water is not the naturally occurring form of sodium fluoride, nor is it the pharmaceutical grade of fluoride that is added to toothpaste and mouthwash.

The Phoenix water supply contains an additive of man-made hexafluorosilic acid from Juarez, Mexico. This is a waste product of the phosphate fertilizer industry and includes contaminants such as arsenic (a known cancer-causing agent), mercury and lead (both neurotoxic and especially harmful to children), antimony, barium, cadmium, thallium, radionuclides, radium 226 and 228, and uranium.

The EPA describes fluoride as a chemical “with substantial evidence of developmental neurotoxicity.” There are 23 human studies and 100 animal studies that link fluoride to brain damage.

In light of these studies, Councilwoman Thelda Williams said, “I don’t think children in this city have lower IQs because of this.” Williams and Councilmen Michael Johnson, Jim Waring and Daniel Valenzuela make up the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. The four members agreed to keep adding fluoride to the city’s water supply. They chose not to exercise their option to send the issue to the full city council for further deliberation.

Many residents at the meeting felt that the subcommittee rushed to judgment and did not do its homework. “Thelda Williams told me months ago she believes fluoridation is as American as apple pie — end of story,” said Clute. “And it was clear from Vice Mayor Michael Johnson’s question at the September 11 hearing that he does not understand the chemical mixture the city is adding to the water. It is disturbing that elected officials in the sixth largest city in the United States can make a decision like this without performing due diligence.”

Clute organized a debate on September 5, 2012, at Phoenix College between Howard Farran, D.D.S., MBA, MAGD and member of the Arizona Dental Association and Dr. Paul Connett, a former professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology who now heads the Fluoride Action Network. The four Phoenix subcommittee members indicated that none of them had listened to the debate.


Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about integrative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 5, October/November 2012.

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