by Alan Pryor and Pam Nieberg –
Water, Social Justice, and Environmental Considerations – The last time fluoridation of Davis potable water was considered was in 1990 when the then current City Council rejected the proposals based on citizen opposition. Davis Citizens Against Fluoridation (DCAF) was very recently formed to oppose the latest efforts to fluoridate Davis drinking water. The founders of DCAF include both supporters and opponents of the surface water project. Despite obvious differences between us as to the perceived need for surface water in Davis, we all agree that the current proposal to impose mandatory fluoridation of our drinking water supply is not based on the latest scientific information on the lack of fluoridation efficacy in reducing dental decay and fluoride toxicity.
Further, the campaign to fluoridate our drinking water is now being conducted in a manner specifically designed to seek a hasty approval from the City Council as soon as possible to minimize open and extended public debate. If the controversy surrounding the surface water project showed us anything, however, it is that Davis citizens care deeply about the quality of their water they receive and demand to be actively engaged in the community debate surrounding this issue.
The Rush to Approve Fluoridation without Full Public Disclosure and Debate
Immediately following the Measure I vote in Davis, representatives of Yolo First 5 and Yolo Health Council requested support for fluoridation from members of the the Woodland Davis Clean Water Agency (WDCWA) and the Davis and Woodland City Councils . Printed promotional material promoting fluoridation appeared almost instantly listing a long list of local notables as supporters (including Don Saylor and Helen Thompson). This was followed by a series of appearances by different speakers before the Davis City Council and letters to the editor of the Davis Enterprise – all touting the virtues of fluoridation and asking the City Council to move quickly to approve fluoridation of our drinking water. Since all this paperwork and planning could not have occurred overnight, a concerted effort to coordinate the roll-out of the pro-fluoridation bandwagon had obviously been in the works for some time.
The timing of this slew of public appearances and letters to the editor by the pro-fluoridation forces immediately after the passage of Measure I was not coincidental. In our opinion, interjection of even the notion of fluoridation of the surface water project would have been detrimental to the passage of Measure I by nudging numerous Yes voters into the “Nay” camp. Because of this, even though the pro-fluoridation forces had their political game plan together for years, they were content to remain quietly poised on the sidelines waiting for the surface water project controversy to play itself out before rolling out their promotional campaign. It was simply good politics to keep their heads low and their plans secretive while the Measure I battle raged. What is very concerning now, however, is the concerted effort and pressure being put on the Council to approve fluoridation quickly in an obvious attempt to circumvent full disclosure to the public and without unhurried open debate on this issue.
For instance, at the City Council meeting on April 9th, the Executive Director of Yolo First urged the Council to approve fluoridation by July of this year. Why the rush? After all, the surface water is not even scheduled to begin flowing until late in 2016 at the earliest (more than 3 years away) and installation of a fluoridation injection system is a minor system addition that can be installed at the far tail end of the construction phase.
The reason pro-fluoridation forces want this issue settled and resolved quickly with a minimum of public debate is because they have learned from decades of experience that a blitzkrieg-like push for quick approval of fluoridation before opposing forces are mustered results in a higher likelihood of approval by the local governing agency.
In contrast, Davis Citizens Against Fluoridation welcomes a full and unrushed open debate on the supposed merits and known problems with fluoridation. Imposing such mandatory city-wide medication demands that extensive debate occur in an open and unhurried manner. The reason we advocate a more deliberate, open, and transparent process is because we believe that the more people understand the paucity of good science supporting the efficacy of fluoridation, the problems associated with release of fluorine into the environment, and the health risks associated with fluoridation, the more likely they are to reject the concept in its entirety. Knowing this, it behooves proponents of fluoridation to push any approvals through as rapidly as possible to short-circuit informed and reasoned public debate. This is a strategy that has been employed by fluoridation supporters for decades.
For instance, in the successful 1995 legislative campaign to make fluoridation mandatory in California (but only if outside funds were provided for both installation and operation of ALL sources of potable water – including all of our wells in Davis if surface water fluoridation is mandated), proponents deliberately set out to try to ram through that bill in as sneaky of a manner as possible. According to the January 1997 issue of the Journal of the California Dental Association, “To make the most of the element of surprise, it was decided to wait until the last possible moment to introduce the legislation. We pretty much knew we’d catch the anti-fluoridation faction by surprise because it wasn’t well known outside of the dental community what was going on. And we didn’t want to give the other side any more time to mobilize than absolutely necessary.“
Local supporters of fluoridation have fully embraced this strategy of running a stealth campaign. Indeed, the September 9, 2010 minutes of the Yolo Co Health Council reads, in part, “There was discussion regarding…the need to avoid allowing the anti-fluoride groups time to derail the process before it begins“. Then again in December 9, 2010 their minutes read: “They are updating the materials used in the previous campaign. They want to keep the campaign low key for as long as possible.“
The pro-fluoridation forces clearly have had the discipline to keep to their script. They patiently waited through the controversy and debates surrounding the surface water project ballot measure before springing into action and pushing for quick passage of fluoridation immediately upon passage of Measure I.
But if the campaign to bring surface water to Davis showed us anything, it demonstrated that Davisites demand a full accounting of the pros and cons of any measure that affects our well-being. Proponents of fluoridation would like you to believe that all medical professionals support fluoridation and this decision is a no-brainer. Nothing could be further from the truth as the recent damning report from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science has demonstrated.
For a full discussion of the lack of scientific proof of the efficacy of drinking water fluoridation and the health risks associated with excessive ingestion of fluorine, see Time to Talk about the “F” Word (Fluoride) in the Woodland-Davis Water Project , Davis Vanguard, June 13, 2011.
Social Justice and Fluoridation
Another proven succesful strategy employed by fluoridation proponents is to appeal to the social conscience of progressives by claiming that fluoridation is necessary because minority or disadvantaged communities experience far more cavities and poorer dental care than the general population. While it is true that income correlates directly with dental health, there is no evidence indicating that fluoridation of drinking water will solve this problem. Indeed, many cities that have had fluoridated water for decades (e.g Washington DC, Boston, and New York) still see very high dental decay rates in lower income parts of these cities.
The poor dental health in minority communities is due to the simple fact that minority and disadvantaged communities receive a disproportionably smaller share of dental health care across the entire United States rather than due to the presence or absence of fluoride in their drinking water. In other words, minorities or disadvantaged communities simply do not have the same access to dental health care as more affluent communities and thus experience higher caries rates regardless of the level of fluoride in their drinking water. And this is certainly true in Yolo County.
As example, consider the Yol Co. results obtained from a state-required dental assessment of every new kindergarten student prior to entry. In 2010, Yolo Co Health reported the existence of untreated dental decay rates in 16% of screened students in Davis, 27% in Woodland, and 37% in both Esparto and Winters. These ranges closely follow the percentages of minority or disadvantaged children and income levels in these cities; all of which have never fluoridated their drinking water supplies.
The higher percentages are similar in cities that have been fluoridating their water for decades. According to an article entitled “Oral Health Status of San Francisco Public School Kindergarteners 2000-2005” published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, the percentage of students with untreated caries in San Francisco in 2004-2005 was 29% which was higher than in Davis and Woodland, greater than the national average of 21%, and slightly higher than the California average of 28% in the same years. San Francisco has been fluoridating their water since the 1950s.
Further, such differences in community dental decay rates is a very important parameter when determining whether a community should be fluoridated or not according to researchers – even by those who are otherwise ardent supporters of greater water fluoridation. As reported in a Scientific American article published in January 2008 entitled “2nd Thoughts about Fluoride“, even Jayanth Kumar, who is director of oral health surveillance and research at the New York State Department of Health and a fluoridation-supporting member of the NAS panel admits that fluoridation may not always be of benefit. Even though he maintains that, “We feel there are enough communities out there with high caries rates to justify additional fluoridation“, he acknowledges that the argument for water fluoridation is not as strong in more affluent areas with good nutrition and dental care saying, “Today it depends on what the caries level is in the community. If the disease rate is low, the return on investment for fluoridation may not be all the great“. That would seem to very accurately describe the situation in Davis.
Many national minority community leaders and groups are also opposed to fluoridation of drinking water in disadvantaged communities.
Andrew Young, former U.N. Ambassador and former Atlanta Mayor, along with Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Atlanta (both inductees in the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame) expressed concerns about the fairness, safety, and full disclosure regarding drinking water fluoridation in letters to the Georgia state’s minority and majority legislative leaders.
Ambassador Young wrote, “My father was a dentist. I formerly was a strong believer in the benefits of water fluoridation for preventing cavities. But many things that we began to do 50 or more years ago we now no longer do, because we have learned further information that changes our practices and policies. So it is with fluoridation…. We originally thought people needed to swallow it, so the fluoride would be incorporated into teeth before they erupted from the gums. Our belief in the need for systemic absorption was why we began adding fluoride to drinking water.
But now we know that the primary, limited cavity fighting effects of fluoride are topical, when fluorides touch teeth in the mouth. We know that fluorides do little to stop cavities where they occur most often, in the pits and fissures of the back molars where food packs down into the grooves. This is why there is a big push today to use teeth sealants in the molars of children.
We also have a cavity epidemic today in our inner cities that have been fluoridated for decades. So now we know that fluoride’s impacts are primarily topical and are very limited where needed most in the teeth. And on top of this we are learning that fluorides do not simply affect teeth, but can also harm other tissues and systems in the body. So we must weigh the risks to kidney patients, to diabetics, and to babies against the small amount of cavities prevented by swallowed fluorides….
The National Center for Health Statistics says that 41% of 12-15 year old adolescents now have the teeth staining called “dental fluorosis” that shows overexposure to fluorides as a child, and that 3.6% have the very visible moderate and severe forms of the condition. This translates into millions of persons with disfiguring impacts from fluorides. How many of these persons can afford the tens of thousands of dollars to have veneers or other cosmetic dental work performed?
There is growing bipartisan support across the country for halting water fluoridation. Eleven unions of EPA workers, representing 7,000 EPA lab workers, scientists, and others have called for a halt to fluoridation. The recent suggested lowering of fluoride levels in water does not address the fact that we still cannot control the amount of fluorides that sensitive individuals ingest. I am most deeply concerned for poor families who have babies: if they cannot afford unfluoridated water for their babies’ milk formula, do their babies not count? Of course they do. This is an issue of fairness, civil rights, and compassion. We must find better ways to prevent cavities, such as helping those most at risk for cavities obtain access to the services of a dentist.”
Dr. Durley wrote, “The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences has designated kidney patients, diabetics, seniors, and babies as ‘susceptible subpopulations’ that are especially vulnerable to harm from ingested fluorides. Black citizens are disproportionately affected by kidney disease and diabetes, and are therefore more impacted by fluorides…. why we haven’t been openly told that fluorides build up in the body over time (and) why our government agencies haven’t told the black community openly that fluorides disproportionately harm black Americans…“
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States. In September 2011, LULAC passed a resolution opposing fluoridation at its annual conference. The resolution states that:
“1) Current science shows that fluoridation chemicals pose increased risk to sensitive subpopulations, including infants, the elderly, diabetics, kidney patients, and people with poor nutritional status.
2) Minority communities are more highly impacted by fluorides as they historically experience more diabetes and kidney disease.
3) Minorities are disproportionately harmed by fluorides as documented by increased rates of dental fluorosis (disfiguration and discoloration of the teeth).”
In summary, while it is true that minority communities are greatly disadvantaged with respect to dental health, it is a myth that this disparity is due to the presence or absence of fluorine in their drinking water. The differences are entirely attributable to a lack of access to dental health care providers in these communities and nutitional disparities. Dental health in Yolo County would receive a far greater beneficial impact in reducing caries rates in minority and disadvantaged communities if efforts are focused on increasing preventative dental care to these communities rather than pushing for mandatory fluoridation which does not have proven benefits and carries a variety of medical, dental, and environmental risks.
Other Environmental Considerations
Based on the current recommended maximum level of fluoride to be added to drinking water (0.7 ppm), a reasonable estimate of the total amount of fluorine that would be added to Davis water can be made.
160 gal/person/day per capita water usage in Davis x 68,500 people x 8.34 lb/gallon of water x 0.0000007 (0.7 ppm applied dosage) = 23,354 lbs of fluoride put into Davis water each year – this is almost 12 tons!
Because only 1% of our potable water is actually drunk by people, 99% of this added fluoride is otherwise released into the environment – including our wetlands. This demands that a full environmental impact review be performed before any final decision is made by the Davis City Council.
The Sierra Club has an official national policy of fluoridation which reads as follows:
The Sierra Club understands the historic reason that fluoridation of public water supplies has been promoted and that it may have been historically justifiable (162 million people get fluoride added to their municipal water supply at the recommended level of 0.7-1.2 mg/L). There are now, however, valid concerns regarding the potential adverse impact of fluoridation on the environment, wildlife, and human health.
Therefore, the Sierra Club believes that communities should have the option to reject mandatory fluoridation of their water supplies.
To protect sensitive populations, and because safer strategies and methods for preventing tooth decay are now available, we recommend that these safer alternatives be made available and promoted. If fluoride is added to municipal water supplies, sodium fluoride rather than flourosilicate compounds should be used because the latter has a greater risk of being contaminated with such heavy metals as lead and arsenic.
Before a water supply is fluoridated, there should be a local assessment of the impact on affected aquatic ecosystems. This assessment should examine background fluoride levels and estimate what the levels will be after fluoridation. It should also assess the effect of this increased fluoride on downstream aquatic ecosystems.”
Timeline for Consideration of Fluoridation on Davis
The Davis City Council has put issue of fluoridation of Davis Water before the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) for its recommendation. The Davis Water Advisory Committee usually meets in the Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd., starting at 6:30 PM.
They are scheduled to hear the pros-fluoridation arguments on Thursday, April 25, to hear the “cons” arguments on Thursday, May 23, 2013, and to decide on a recommendation for the City Council on Thursday, June 27, 2013.
The matter has not yet been agendized by the City Council.
Alan Pryor and Pam Nieberg are Davis Citizens Against Fluoride