While it would be valuable to strengthen regulation of fluoride emitted into the environment from all sources, the problem of additional fluoride pollution can at least be partially addressed through a simple solution that costs nothing and can be implemented immediately: “just say no” to efforts to add fluoride compounds, plus the host of other toxic contaminants that come with them, to our drinking water.
Fluoride, which is typically bound in the earth’s crust, enters the environment from multiple sources. Fluoride falls between lead and arsenic in terms of its acute toxicity, yet the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for fluoride is 267 times the MCL for lead and 400 times the MCL for arsenic.
To protect aquatic life, Environment Canada has established 0.12 ppm as the Canadian Water Quality Guideline for inorganic fluorides. No such guideline for inorganic fluorides in ambient water has been established in the U.S. During summer months, the fluoride level of the Tualatin River in Oregon has been measured as high as 0.7 ppm. Ironically, while fluoride compounds cannot be directly dumped into the environment, they can be added to drinking water, most all of which makes its way back into the ecosystem.
Fluoridating the water for 100 million people requires dumping approximately 20,000 tons of fluoride compounds into municipal supplies each year. Yet, the American Water Works Association reports that less than 1% of fluoride-treated water is ever consumed, with the remaining 99% finding its way into the ecosystem. Airborne fluoride, emitted from various industrial sources in both gaseous and particulate forms, further compounds the problem, by tainting crops, wild plants, and settling in watersheds, incrementally increasing the fluoride burden of species higher up the food chain.
In the 1980’s, scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service found that fluoride discharges from an aluminum smelter adversely affected the migratory behavior of Chinook and Coho salmon attempting to pass the John Day Dam, causing high rates of mortality among the fish. Subsequent classically-controlled studies at Hood Canal, WA found that fluoride levels should be restricted to no more than 0.2 ppm to prevent negative effects on the migration of salmon in the river. Affirming this finding, a paper presented at the 20th Conference of the International Society for Fluoride Research proposed a “ban on fluoridation and rapid sunsetting of the practice of disposal of industrial fluoride waste into fresh water.”
As early as 1975, Edward Groth, now a senior scientist with Consumers Union, raised the concern that “fluoride may interact synergistically with other environmental pollutants to producer greater effects than either pollutant could cause were it acting alone.” According to the Earth Island Journal, this synergistic “boost” has been demonstrated between waterborne fluoride and copper. Earth Island Journal also reports that in 1969, hydrofluosilicic acid—fluoride—the same substance used to fluoridate city water supplies—from a phosphorus plant caused a massive fish kill, turning Placentia Bay in Newfoundland, Canada into a “biological desert.”
Billions of dollars in public and private funds have been spent and/or proposed as part of the effort to restore critical stocks of salmon and other aquatic life in the Columbia Basin. Incredibly complex and controversial measures may be necessary if we are to protect our fisheries and the safety of our water supply. Why should Oregonians spend public money on water fluoridation programs that will hamper these already Herculean efforts?