Monday, May 02, 2005

Toxic Fluoride

Over the last couple of weeks, I have had a debate with an anti-fluoride opponent in the letters to the editor section of my local newspaper. The anti-fluoride debate is filled with half-truths and misinformation similar to that found with the anti-vaccination movement and most other areas of health fraud.

It can be easy to be mislead when it comes to scientific information. Much of the confusion can be traced to the use of particular words and phrases. Below is a list of claims made by my opponent and the full facts.

1. Fluoride is toxic.
A. Technically, this is correct. If you consume enough fluoride it can kill you. But then, virtually everything has a toxic level if you have enough. The dose at where 50% of people will die (LD50) from fluoride (Hydrofluorosilicic acid) is 933mg per kg. For a 75kg person, you would need 69,975mg. The concentration of fluoridated water is 1 mg per litre. So the 75kg person would have to sit and drink 69,975 litres of fluoridated water to receive a lethal dose.

2. Fluoride is industrial waste from fertiliser production.

B. This is a half-truth. Fluoride is a by-product of the fertiliser industry. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. It is found in areas that also have high levels of phosphate, which is used as fertiliser. The extraction of fluoride from the fertiliser manufacturing is more accurately described as a by-product, not an industrial waste. Molasses is leftover from sugar processing, yet few would call it industrial waste.

3. The untreated industrial waste must be disposed of in a licensed hazardous waste facility.

C. This is true. The untreated waste from the fertiliser manufacturing must be disposed of correctly. However, the purified by-product, fluoride is not "untreated industrial waste". Why would companies go to the trouble of extracting the fluoride if it is just going to be dumped as waste? It is not the fluoride content that makes the waste dangerous. Phosphates in the river systems lead to algal blooms, fish kills etc. This is why the waste must be disposed of carefully.

4. Only 50% of fluoride we ingest each day is excreted through the kidneys, the remainder accumulates in our bones, pineal gland tissues causing other problems.

D. The excretion rate varies from individual to individual, but around 50% is not uncommon. A substance that accumulates in the body is not necessarily a bad thing. The fluoride is absorbed by the bones and teeth, making them stronger. This is the main reason for placing fluoride in the water in the first place. The original Hydrofluorosilicic acid can react to form non-toxic, inert compounds. One must also consider how much fluoride leaves the body whenever a tooth is lost!

If all of the fluoride remains in it's original form and 50% is excreted by the kidneys, a 75kg person drinking 2 litres of fluoridated water per day would take 191 years to accumulate a lethal dose.

5. I believe in the precautionary principle, If in doubt, leave it out.

E. This is something that I also agree with. In the case of fluoride, there is no doubt. There are decades of tests, studies and practical experience showing the safety and effectiveness of placing fluoride in the water. There is almost unanimous support for fluoridation by the scientific community. There will always be some who disagree, but this is natural when it comes to things scientific.

To place things into perspective, caffeine, which can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate, guarana and many other items is 4.8 times more toxic than the fluoride being placed into the water. I don't remember seeing people writing to ban coffee.