Home > skepticism > standing up for what i don’t want to later realize i should have believed in

standing up for what i don’t want to later realize i should have believed in

You might have no idea that a local group called Fluoride Free NRV, spearheaded by Dan Steinberg, is attempting to rally public support for an end to the fluoridation of our water, which they denounce as “ineffective for preventing cavities”, “harmful to public health”, and “unethical forced medication”. (But then i would conclude that you must not live in Blacksburg.) In November a friend of mine handed me a copy of this flier at the Farmers Market, asking if i’d join the campaign, and Mr. Steinberg got a blurb on the last Environmental Coalition newsletter of the semester. I’ve been doing some research in response to a few of the scarier (and stranger) claims the group has made, and, suffice to say, i’m not panicking.

While one can’t help but notice their memorabilia around town, i hadn’t quite felt drenched in it until i waded through their 38-minute relay speech to Town Council. Now, perhaps some of these speakers surrendered to bouts of truthiness, or perhaps they really had taken away false messages from the campaign, but several times (by my count) they crossed the line from the carefully-crafted pseudoskepticism of their own literature into outright falsehoods. Such untruths, propelled by the cumulative thrust of an assemblage half-truths (and, for all i know, some truths as well), may have made their case sound quite sound to an impartial listener.

So, against my worse judgment, i pointed out some of the gaps at Tuesday night’s meeting. (I haven’t watched; i loathe watching myself.) A steamy helping of embarrassment awaits those who play referee to a scientific discipline other than their own (or ought to, at least), so for the most part i stuck to the journalistic facts. Here’s the written statement i read, with some hyperlinked sources.

At the last meeting several residents objected to the fluoridation of our water.

I am not a proponent of fluoridation, though i do support it, but i am an opponent of misinformation campaigns, however sincere or well-intentioned.

While i trust Council to make informed and intelligent decisions, a history of other town councils acquiescing to similar campaigns, even against the advice of local dentists, alarms me.

Here are some things i find relevant to the claims made at the last meeting.

Fluoride occurs naturally in groundwater, even near twice NRV levels in the western United States and the Great Lakes region. De-fluoridation there is no more natural than fluoridation here.

Fluoride is a nutrient, specifically a dietary mineral, in the sense of aiding digestion by strengthening teeth and preventing decay. Whether it’s called “essential” depends on context; for instance, in a 2007 report the National Research Council identified fluorine among “[t]he mineral elements currently considered essential for human health and metabolism”.

The FDA have approved fluoride in water — bottled water. Municipal water supplies are outside their jurisdiction.

The negative relationship between fluoride content in water and tooth decay were observed in 1931, nearly a decade before U.S. involvement in World War II.

Everything is toxic in high enough doses.

Regarding thyroid function specifically, of the five papers cited in the 2006 National Research Council report that measured hormone concentrations, for example,

  • four [Bachinskii et al, Yang et al, Michael et al, Susheela et al] compared fluoride levels similar to ours against levels ranging from 2½ to 15 times as high — our levels were used as controls;
  • only the fifth [Lin et al] compared two fluoride levels below 1 ppm, but only among iodine-deficient populations — it measured the interaction effect* of fluoride level with iodine deficiency.

This is, i suspect, part of what the National Research Council meant when they concluded that more research is required.

Several supreme courts have upheld the authority of local and state governments to fluoridate water, ruling that it is neither forced medication nor an infringement upon religious freedom.

Several European countries fluoridate water, and several others stopped only after salt fluoridation began.

Most have had universal health care since World War II. Similar declines in tooth decay alone no more imply that fluoridation is ineffective than they imply that universal dental care is effective.

In any event, long-term declining rates of tooth decay are only a small part of the cumulative evidence that low levels of fluoride in water prevent tooth decay, and this is not the only benefit of fluoride.

In light of these and other discrepancies, i urge Council to exercise at least as much skepticism toward the claims of Fluoride Free NRV as Mr. Steinberg insists you apply to those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I’ll provide links to my sources by email.
Thank you.

I’ll probably have more to say on this. Then again, i’ll probably do better in the long run to graduate before i derail my current research program to chase down conspiracy theories.

(Title credit.)

* This is not quite right — while the study did focus on fluoride-iodine interactions, a proper measurement of the interaction effect itself would require a fourth population — but it crams the essential point into an already densely-packed 3-minute window.

  1. Pansy Waycaster
    January 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Hi Cory,
    I did have your website bookmarked and enjoyed reading your Jan 14 post. And yes I have read some material from you on this subject earlier. I am very proud of you taking a stand and expressing your concerns over misinformation to the Town Council. You make some valid points.

    I also agree that your thesis needs most of your attention now since you can come back to this “conspiracy theory” once your Ph.D. is in hand.

    Your pic is probably a common view of you when you are engrossed in a writing project–too bad I could not see your face… :) Love you.


    • January 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Love you too, Mom. : ) Still, if i’m gonna have a hobby. . . .

  1. April 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

Enlighten me.

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