North America's water fluoridation debate: Battleground Austin

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 by: Neev M. Arnell
Tags: water fluoridation, Austin, health news

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(NaturalNews) As a result of a year-long public outcry against water fluoridation in Austin, TX, the City Council held its second public meeting on the issue May 18, which attracted a standing-room only crowd.

Water fluoridation is a policy endorsed by numerous global health organizations, most notably the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Controversy surrounding the practice has grown in recent years, however, as an increasing number of scientists and health professionals argue that fluoride in drinking water causes many negative health effects, especially when looked at beyond dental health to the impact on the whole body. (http://impactnews.com/southwest-austin/387-c...)

Areas in the U.S. and Canada, most recently Calgary with 1.1 million people, have already stopped fluoridation and U.S. cities such as Austin, Denver, CO and Boulder, CO, which are considering the fluoridation issue currently, may follow suit. This could cause a domino effect across North America and bring water fluoridation to a halt permanently, according to Fluoride Action Network Executive Director Dr. Paul Connett, who attended Austin's meeting.

Austin's Battle

"For a year, members of the community would keep coming to [the regular City Council meetings] to talk about it," said councilmember Randi Shade. "And we would just sit there because there was no format, no opportunity for us to do anything in that situation, so my point was to take it out of that and into a place we can actually deliberate, actually get the facts, start really getting education on what the implications would be for the larger community."

The Austin City Council Health and Human Services Subcommittee invited speakers both in favor of and against fluoridation of drinking water to address specific questions from the City Council, and enable subcommittee members to determine if Austin needs to remove fluoride from the city's drinking water.

The fluoride debate

Dr. Delton Yarbrough, chair of the Council on Dental Economics, and Dr. Cecil George from the Texas Dental Association, who attended the meeting as the pro-fluoridation experts, were unable to respond to the onslaught of science from the opposing side with science that supported their pro-fluoridation views.

"[Dr. Connett] is clearly very articulate and excellent at presenting his case," Shade said. "But the issue that Dr. Connett raised is really, the United States government, who is responsible for setting health care policy for the nation, should be looking at this."

Connett, professor emeritus of chemistry at St. Lawrence University in New York and author of the book "The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep it There," flew into Austin for the day to argue against fluoridation. Arguably the leading authority on water fluoridation, Connett responded to every point made by his opponents by quoting peer-reviewed studies, as did his associate, dentist Griffin Cole, who runs a fluoride-free practice in Austin.

"My two opponents today didn't cite one primary study indicating safety -- not one study showing that fluoridation works," Connett said. "They really were not satisfactory answers. I think independent observers would find their case wanton."

Yarbrough and George instead relied heavily on endorsements of fluoride from public health organizations and anecdotal evidence.

"More than 100 national and international health, science, service, and professional organizations recognize and endorse the public health benefits of community water fluoridation," Yarbrough said. "Outside of that, as a practicing dentist in an area where the fluoride content of the water on the low end is .9 parts per million, I don't really need the benefit of science to know how effective fluoride in the water is. I see it every day at work when patients open their mouths."

Yarbrough later was dismissive of Connett's studies without backing up his claims and eschewed science in general in favor of an appeal to faith.

"They say these studies aren't validated. We say their studies aren't validated," Yarbrough said. "The studies they're quoting out of China, Dr. Connett paid to have those studies translated and brought out of China and the modalities of those studies have been questioned, so it comes down to, who do you believe? Do you believe us? Do you believe them? Do you believe the gigglers in the audience?"

Laughter at the statement "Who do you believe?" was followed by a murmur of disapproval running through the audience of the mostly anti-fluoride Austin residents.

"It's not about who you believe. It's about the science," said one spectator.

Going against the recommendations of the public health organizations puts the burden of proof on the opposing side, according to Shade.

"The question that Yarbrough provided was "Who do you believe?" Shade said. "I think the majority of the community would say, if you're not going to take the recommendations of the CDC whose job it is to provide health care policy for municipalities across the country then you really have to be sure that we are going to do this."

The delicate fluoridation decision

Whether or not Austin will reverse fluoridation remains to be seen. There is no set date for future action. A change in Austin's fluoridation policy will require two councilmembers to put it on the agenda and four to vote it out.

"I'm just very nervous about making a change that goes against what the recommendations are for good public health policies from the people who are supposed to responsible for that in our nation," Shade said. "I mean it's risky."

But Lago Vista, a city less than 20 miles outside of Austin, reversed its decision to fluoridate in April 2011 without much fanfare, according to City Manager Bill Angelo.

"There were some concerns that it may not be as healthy as people once thought, and that people have other methods to get fluoride if they want it," Angelo said. "We also just realized that we didn't have the expertise to refute whether it was bad or good, so we felt the safest thing to do was remove it."

In the past few years, a handful of cities surrounding Austin that started fluoridating in the 1980's have ceased fluoridating their water supplies, including Lago Vista, Alamo Heights, Elgin and Marble Falls.

Elgin's city council voted 5-3 to take fluoride out of the water, citing reasons, including opposing putting a lead containing material in the water (http://www2.fluoridealert.org/Alert/United-S...), opposing forced medication on the public, an inadequate margin of safety and issues with the "additives" in the commercially produced product that is used for fluoridation (http://macsaferwater.wordpress.com/2010/10/1...).

"There was an ominous sign at the end [of the Austin meeting] about how risky it was bucking officialdom," Connett said. "We have these big agencies like the CDC telling them this is the best thing since sliced bread. But I think that all people that are in positions of power, have responsibility, and good leadership does require occasionally standing up against powerful forces when you have been convinced that those powerful forces are wrong."

And with the news that civil rights leaders speaking out against fluoride this past month have also been joined by Martin Luther King's daughter, Bernice, who went public with a denunciation of water fluoridation this week on Georgia's Praise 102.5 FM, Connett is hopeful about winning the fluoridation battle.

"What is happening in Atlanta is huge" Connett said. "We have known for a long time that blacks and Hispanics are more susceptible to dental fluorosis [which is the staining and pitting of teeth caused by ingesting fluoride]. But now that Andrew Young and Beatrice and other black leaders in Atlanta, right under the nose of the CDC, are coming out against this, I think the writing is on the wall."

Yarborough did not comment on the future of fluoridation from the pro-fluoride side and refused an interview with NaturalNews.

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