Commie Plot or Capitalist Ploy
by Joel Griffiths
Cows crawled around the pasture on their
bellies, inching along like giant snails.
So crippled by bone disease they could not
stand up, this was the only way they could
graze. Some died kneeling, after giving
birth to stunted calves. Others kept on
crawling until, no longer able to chew
because their teeth had crumbled down to
the nerves, they began to starve. (1)
These were the cattle of the Mohawk
Indians on the New York-Canadian St. Regis
Reservation during the period 1960-75,
when industrial pollution devastated the
herd and along with it, the Mohawks' way
of life. Crops and trees withered, birds
and bees fled from this remnant of land
the Mohawk still call Akwesasne, "the land
where the partridge drums." Today, nets
cast into the St. Lawrence River by Mohawk
fishers bring up ulcerated fish with
spinal deformities. Mohawk children, too,
have shown signs of damage to bones and
In 1980, the Mohawks filed a $150 million
lawsuit for damage to themselves and their
property against the companies responsible
for the pollution: the Reynolds Metals Co.
and the Aluminum Co. of America (ALCOA) .
But five years of legal costs bankrupted
the tribe and they settled for $650,000 in
damages to their cows; (3) the court,
however, left the door open for a future
Mohawk suit for damage to their own
health. After all, commented human rights
lawyer Robert Pritchard, " What judge
wants to go down in history as being the
judge who approved the annihilation of the
Indians by fluoride emissions?" (4)
Fluoride, as in toothpaste?
Well, yes. Fluoride was the pollutant
primarily responsible for the Akwesasne
For nearly 50 years, the U.S. government
and media have been telling the public
that fluoride is safe and beneficial -- it
is supposed to reduce cavities, especially
in children. Manufacturers add it to
toothpaste, municipalities put it in the
public's drinking water. The only people
who question the safety of fluoride, says
the government, are quacks and lunatics --
particularly of the far-right-wing
But fluoride has another side the
government never mentions. It is a toxic
industrial pollutant; one of the oldest
and biggest of them all. For decades, U.S.
industrial plants have rained heavy doses
of waste fluoride on people, such as the
Mohawks. The nation, however, has been
successfully conditioned to think of
fluoride solely as a benevolent substance
and to dismiss as a crackpot, anyone who
In recent years, because of rampant
environmental damage, some of the worst
fluoride pollution plants such as those at
Akwesasne have been forced to reduce their
emissions, but not terminate them. At
Akwesasne, cows still live only half their
normal lifespan. (6) Nationwide, fluoride
remains one of industry's largest
pollutants. By the Environmental
Protection Agency's (EPA) last estimate,
at least 155,000 tons a year were being
released into the air by U.S. industrial
plants. (7) Emissions into water lakes,
rivers, and ocean have been estimated to
be as high as 500,000 tons a year. (8)
(NOTE from FAN: Recent EPA data
indicates that fluoride is currently the
6th most emitted Hazardous Air Pollutant
in the US, although total air emissions
are now considerably lower than 155,000
While people living near and/or working in
heavy fluoride-emitting industrial plants
have received the highest doses, the
general population has not been spared
either. Fluoride is not biodegradable;
whatever comes around stays around,
gradually accumulating in the environment,
in the food chain, and in people's bodies,
where it settles in bones and teeth.
If this general increase in fluoride dose
were proved harmful to humans, the impact
on industry which pollutes both air and
water would be major. The nation's air is
contaminated by fluoride emissions from
the production of iron, steel, aluminum ,
copper, lead and zinc; phosphates
(essential for the manufacture of all
agricultural fertilizers); plastics;
gasoline; brick, cement, glass, ceramics,
and the multitudinous other products made
from clay; electrical power generation and
all other coal combustion ; and uranium
processing . (9)
As for water, the leading industrial
fluoride polluters are the producers and
processors of glass, pesticides and
fertilizers, steel and aluminum,
chemicals, and metals. (10) The metal
processing industries include copper and
brass, as well as titanium, superalloys,
and refractory metals for military use.
The list of polluters extends across
industry from basic to strategic. Industry
and government have long had a powerful
motive for claiming an increased dose of
fluoride is safe for the population.
Maintaining this position has not been
easy because, of industry's largest
pollutants, fluoride is by far the most
toxic to vegetation, animals, and humans.
(12) In fact, it's one of the most toxic
substances known. (13)
"Airborne fluorides," reports the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, "have caused
more worldwide damage to domestic animals
than any other air pollutant." (14) As for
vegetation , as early as 1901, studies
"found that fluoride compounds are much
more toxic than the other compounds that
are of significance in the industrial
smoke problem." (15)
Fluoride pollution has caused aquatic
damage of similar magnitude. (16) In other
words, there have been many Akwesasnes.
"Man [sic] is much more sensitive than
domestic animals to fluoride intoxication
[the medical term for poisoning]." (17)
Evidence that industrial fluoride has been
killing and crippling not only cows but
human beings has existed at least since
the 1930s. The government has not only
dismissed the danger and left industry
free to pollute, but it has promoted the
intentional addition of fluoride most of
which is recycled industrial waste to the
nation's drinking water.
"It might be economically feasible to
reduce industrial fluoride emissions
further," says Fred L. Metz of the EPA's
Office of Toxic Substances, "but
eliminating them would probably be
Primal Poison Threatens industry
Of the highly toxic
elements that are naturally present
throughout the earth's crust -- such as
arsenic, mercury, and lead -- fluoride is
by far the largest in quantity. (19)
Normally, only minute amounts of these
elements are found on the earth's surface,
but Industry mines its basic raw materials
from deep in the earth and brings up vast
tonnages -- none in greater quantity than
Historically, perhaps no other pollutant
has posed a greater threat to industrial
expansion. As early as 1850, fluoride
emissions from the iron and copper
industries poisoned crops, livestock, and
people. By the turn of the century,
consequent lawsuits and burdensome
regulations threatened the existence of
these industries in Germany and England.
(20) They saved themselves by introducing
the tall smokestacks which reduced damage
by dispersing the fluorides and other
toxins into the upper air.
In twentieth century America, however,
enormous industrial plants and new
technologies increased fluoride emissions
so that even tall stacks could not prevent
gross damage for miles around. Following
the period of explosive industrial
expansion known as "industry's roaring
2Os," the magnitude of industry's fluoride
dilemma became starkly apparent.
International reports of fluoride damage
mushroomed in 1933 when the world's first
major air pollution disaster struck
Belgium's Meuse Valley : several thousand
people became violently ill and 60 died.
The cause was disputed, but investigations
by prominent scientists, including Kaj
Roholm, the world's leading authority on
fluoride hazards, placed the blame on
Here and abroad, health scientists were
beginning to regard fluoride as a poison,
pure and simple. The trend toward its
removal from the environment was
potentially disastrous from industry's
point of view. "Only recently, that is,
within the last ten years, has the serious
nature of fluoride toxicity been
realized," wrote Lloyd DeEds, senior
toxicologist with the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) in 1933. "It is a
well-established fact that chronic
intoxication [poisoning] may manifest
itself in man as recognized abnormalities
only after constant, or at least frequent,
exposure over many years....The
possibility of fluoride hazard should...be
recognized in industry...where this
element is discharged into the air as an
apparently worthless by-product." (22)
It was abundantly clear to both industry
and government that spectacular U.S.
industrial expansion -- and the economic
and military power and vast profits it
promised -- would necessitate releasing
millions of tons of waste fluoride into
the environment. Furthermore, two large
new industries would be adding to the
dose: fluorocarbon chemicals (the aerosol
propellants and refrigerants now depleting
the ozone layer) and aluminum, slated for
a crucial economic and military role
during the upcoming Second World War. By
1938 the aluminum industry , which then
consisted solely of ALCOA, had been placed
on a wartime schedule. And fluoride was
the aluminum industry's most devastating
U.S. future industrial expansion, then,
would be accompanied by complaints and lawsuits
over fluoride damage on an unprecedented
scale -- the most threatening aspect of
which was harm to human health. Damage to
animals and the environment might be
tolerated and easily paid off; if,
however, serious injury to people were
established, lawsuits alone could prove
devastating to companies, while public
outcry could force industry-wide
government regulations, billions in
pollution-control costs, and even
mandatory changes in high-fluoride raw
materials and profitable technologies.
Liability Into Asset
This inter-war period saw
the birth of the military-industrial
complex , with its concomitant public
disinformation campaigns. It also saw a
federal blitz campaign to convince the
public fluoride was safe and good for
them. The kick-off was the 1939
announcement by ALCOA-funded scientist
Gerald J. Cox: "The present trend toward
complete removal of fluoride from water
and food may need some reversal." (24)
New evidence of fluoride's safety began
emerging from research centers plied with
industry's largess. Notable among these
was the University of Cincinnati's Ketring
Laboratory , whose specialty was
investigating the hazards of industrial
chemicals. Funded largely by top
fluoride-emitters such as ALCOA, the
Kettering Lab quickly dominated fluoride
safety research. A book by Kettering
scientist and Reynolds Metals consultant
E.J. Largent, for example, written in part
to "aid industry in lawsuits arising from
fluoride damage," became a basic
international reference work. (25)
The big news in Cox's announcement was
that this "apparently worthless
by-product" had not only been proved safe
(in low doses), but actually beneficial:
it might reduce cavities in children. A
proposal was in the air to add fluoride to
the entire nation's drinking water. While
the dose to each individual would be low,
"fluoridation" on a national scale would
require the annual addition of hundreds of
thousands of tons of fluoride to the
country's drinking water.
Government and industry -- especially
ALCOA -- strongly supported intentional
water fluoridation. Undoubtedly, most
proponents were sincere in their belief
that the procedure was safe and
beneficial. At the same time, it might be
noted that fluoridation made possible a
master public relations stroke -- one that
could keep scientists and the public off
fluoride's case for years to come. If the
leaders of dentistry, medicine, and public
health could be persuaded to endorse
fluoride in the public's drinking water,
proclaiming to the nation that there was a
"wide margin of safety," how were they
going to turn around later and say
industry's fluoride pollution was
As for the public, if fluoride could be
introduced as a health-enhancing substance
that should be added to the environment
for the children's sake, those opposing it
would look like quacks and lunatics. The
public would question attempts to point
out its toxicity or its unsavory
ALCOA Foils Accountability
With such a powerful spin
operating, fluoride might become a
virtually "protected pollutant," as writer
Elise Jerard later termed it. (26) One
thing is certain, the name of the company
with the biggest stake in fluoride's
safety was ALCOA -- whose name is stamped
all over the early history of water
Throughout industry's "roaring 20s," the
U.S. Public Health Service was under the
jurisdiction of Treasury Secretary Andrew
W. Mellon, a founder and major stockholder
of ALCOA. In 1931, the year Mellon stepped
down, a Public Health Service dentist
named H. Trendley Dean was dispatched to
certain remote towns in the West where
drinking-water wells contained high
concentrations of natural fluoride from
deep in the earth's crust. Dean's mission
was to determine how much fluoride people
could tolerate without obvious damage to
their teeth -- a matter of considerable
concern to ALCOA. Dean found that teeth in
these high-fluoride towns were often
discolored and eroded, but he also
reported that they appeared to have fewer
cavities than average. He cautiously
recommended further studies to determine
whether a lower level of fluoride in
drinking water might reduce cavities
without simultaneously damaging bones and
teeth, where fluoride settles in humans
and other animals.
Back at the Mellon Institute, ALCOA's
Pittsburgh industrial research lab, this
news was galvanic. ALCOA-sponsored
biochemist Gerald J. Cox (27) immediately
fluoridated some lab rats in a study and
concluded that fluoride reduced cavities
and that: "The case should be regarded as
proved." (28) In a historic moment in
1939, the first public proposal that the
U.S. should fluoridate its water supplies
was made not by a doctor, or dentist, but
by Cox, an industry scientist working for
a company threatened by fluoride damage
claims.(29) Cox began touring the country,
stumping for fluoridation.
Initially, many doctors, dentists, and
scientists were cautious and skeptical,
but then came World War II, during which
industry's fluoride pollution increased
sharply because of stepped-up production
and the extensive use of ALCOA aluminum in
Following the war, as expected, hundreds
of fluoride damage suits were filed around
the country against producers of aluminum,
iron and steel, phosphates, chemicals, and
other major polluters. (30) The cases
settled in court involved only damage to
livestock or vegetation.
"Friends" of Children
Many others were settled
out of court, including those claiming
damage to human health, thus avoiding
legal precedents. In one case
, for the first time in the U.S. an
Oregon federal court found in Paul M. and
Verla Martin v. Reynolds Metals (1955)
that the couple had sustained "serious
injury to their livers, kidneys and
digestive functions" from eating "farm
produce contaminated by [fluoride] fumes"
from a nearby Reynolds aluminum plant.
(31) Soon thereafter, no less than the
Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) and
six other metals and chemical companies
joined with Reynolds as "friends of the
court" to get the decision reversed.
According to a local paper, a Reynolds
attorney "contended that if allowed to
stand, the verdict would become a ruling
case, making every aluminum and chemical
plant liable to damage claims simply by
operating [emphasis added]." (32) Despite
extensive medical testimony for Reynolds
from Kettering Lab scientists, the Martins
kept on winning. Finally, in a
time-honored corporate solution, Reynolds
mooted the case by buying the Martins'
ranch for a hefty price.
The postwar casualties of industrial
fluoride pollution were many -- from
forests to livestock to farmers to
smog-stricken urban residents -- but they
received little more than local notice.
National attention had been diverted by
fluoride's heavily publicized new image.
In 1945, shortly before the war's end,
water fluoridation abruptly emerged with
the full force of the federal government
behind it. In that year, two Michigan
cities were selected for an official
"15-year" comparison study to determine if
fluoride could safely reduce cavities in
children, and fluoride was pumped into the
drinking water of Grand Rapids.
Other early experiments were performed,
not only without publicity, but without
the knowledge of the subjects. The
scientific value of these experiments --
and their ethics -- were dubious in the
extreme. In Massachusetts and Connecticut,
for example, the first fluoridation
experiments (1945-46) were conducted on
indigent, mentally retarded children at
state-run schools. According to the 1954
congressional testimony of Florence
Birmingham, a trustee of the Wrentham
(Massachusetts) State School for
Feebleminded Children, her school's
administration learned only by accident
that fluoride was being put in the
drinking water. (33)
The trustees immediately voted to stop the
fluoridation, Birmingham testified, "but
to my shocked surprise, we were told by
the [Massachusetts Department of Health]
that it was not an experiment and the
fluoridation continued on.... I found in
the files a letter revealing that [a
health department representative] had come
to the institution school and in a
conference with administration officials
warned them that there should be no
publicity on the fluoride program
The federally sanctioned experimenters did
not seem concerned that these children
might accidentally receive a toxic
overdose of fluoride. "The method used in
putting fluoride in the water," said the
president of the school employees' union,
"...is enough to cause panic at the
institution....A boy patient does it...He
knows what it is for he said, Come up with
me and I can show you how I can take care
of you if I get mad at you.'" (34)
Meanwhile, in 1946, despite the fact that
the official 15-year experiment in
Michigan had barely begun, six more U.S.
cities were allowed to fluoridate their
water. The fluoridation bandwagon had
begun to roll.
At this juncture, Oscar R. Ewing, a
long-time ALCOA lawyer who had recently
been named the company's chief counsel
with fees in the then-astronomical range
of $750,000 a year (35) -- arrived in
Washington. Ewing was presumably well
aware of ALCOA's fluoride litigation
problem. He had handled the company's
negotiations with the government for the
building of its wartime plants. (36)
In 1947, Ewing was appointed head of the
Federal Security Agency (later HEW), a
position that placed him in charge of the
Public Health Service (PHS). Under him, a
national water fluoridation campaign
rapidly materialized, spearheaded by the
PHS. Over the next three years, 87
additional cities were fluoridated
including the control city in the original
two-city Michigan experiment, thus wiping
out the most scientifically objective test
of safety and benefit before it was half
The Father of All Spin Doctors
The government's official
reason for this unscientific haste was
"popular demand." And indeed, these 87
cities had become so wild for fluoridation
that the government claimed it wasn't fair
to deny them the benefits. By then, in
fact, much of the nation was clamoring for
fluoridation. This enthusiasm was not
really surprising, considering Oscar
Ewing's public relations strategist for
the water fluoridation campaign was none
other than Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward
L. Bernays, (37) "The Original Spin
Doctor," as a Washington Post headline
recently termed him. (38) Bernays, also
known as the "father of public relations,"
pioneered the application of his uncle's
theories to advertising and government
propaganda. The government's fluoridation
campaign was one of his most stunning and
In his 1928 book, Propaganda, Bernays
explained "the structure of the mechanism
which controls the public mind, and how it
is manipulated by the special pleader
[i.e., public relations counsel] who seeks
to create public acceptance for a
particular idea or commodity.....(39)
Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism
of society constitute an invisible
government which is the true ruling power
of our country...our minds are molded, our
tastes formed, our ideas suggested,
largely by men we have never heard of...."
"If you can influence the [group]
leaders," wrote Bernays who had many
confidential industrial clients, "either
with or without their conscious
cooperation [emphasis added], you
automatically influence the group which
they sway..." (40)
Describing how, as PR man for the
Beech-nut Bacon Company, he influenced
leaders of the medical profession to
promote sales, Bernays wrote, "The new
salesman [would] suggest to physicians to
say publicly that it is wholesome to eat
bacon. He knows as a mathematical
certainty that large numbers of persons
will follow the advice of their doctors
because he understands the psychological
relationship of dependence of men on their
Substitute "dentists" for "physicians" and
"fluoride" for "bacon" and the
similarities are apparent. Almost
overnight, under Bernays' mass
mind-molding, the popular image of
fluoride -- which at the time was being
widely sold as rat and bug poison --
became that of a beneficial provider of
gleaming smiles, absolutely safe, and good
for children, bestowed by a benevolent
paternal government. Its opponents were
permanently engraved on the public mind as
crackpots and right-wing loonies.
opponents from every point on the
continuum of politics and sanity. The
prospect of the government mass-medicating
the water supplies with a well-known rat
poison to prevent a non-lethal disease
flipped the switches of delusionals across
the country -- as well as generating
concern among responsible scientists,
doctors, and citizens.
Moreover, by a fortuitous twist of
circumstances, fluoride's natural
opponents on the left were alienated from
the rest of the opposition. Oscar Ewing,
as Federal Security Agency administrator,
was a Truman "fair dealer" who pushed many
progressive programs such as nationalized
medicine. Fluoridation was lumped with his
proposals. Inevitably, it was attacked by
conservatives as a manifestation of
"creeping socialism," while the left
rallied to its support. Later during the
McCarthy era, the left was further
alienated from the opposition when extreme
right-wing groups, including the John
Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan, raved
that fluoridation was a plot by the Soviet
Union and/or communists in the government
to poison America's brain cells.
It was a simple task for promoters, under
the guidance of the "original
spin-doctor," to paint all opponents as
deranged -- and they played this angle to
the hilt. For example, one widely
distributed dossier on opponents "listed
in alphabetical order reputable
scientists, convicted felons, food
faddists, scientific organizations, and
the Ku Klux Klan." (42)
Actually, many of the strongest opponents
originally started out as proponents, but
changed their minds after a close look at
the evidence. And many opponents came to
view fluoridation not as a communist plot,
but simply as a capitalist-style con job
of epic proportions. Some could be termed
early environmentalists, such as the
physicians George L. Waldbott and
Frederick B. Exner, who first documented
government-industry complicity in hiding
the hazards of fluoride pollution from the
public. Waldbott and Exner risked their
careers in a clash with fluoride
defenders, only to see their cause buried
in toothpaste ads.
Exner's voluminous files were a source of
pivotal evidence in lawsuits decided
against industry and against fluoridation
promoters. In 1978, following his death,
his files were destroyed in a mysterious
But all the opponents, credible and
cracked alike, were run over by the
fluoridation bandwagon. In 1950 the Public
Health Service, along with leaders of
dentistry, medicine, and practically
everything else, officially endorsed
fluoridation, and the transformation of
fluoride's image was complete. Since then,
two-thirds of the nation's reservoirs have
been fluoridated, and about 143,000 tons
of fluoride are pumped in yearly to keep
them that way. (44) Meanwhile, the
government continues to campaign for
Which brings us to the last benefit to
industry from fluoridation: Companies
forced to reduce their emission can recoup
some of the expense by selling the waste
to cities for water fluoridation. And most
of the fluoride added to drinking water
has been recycled waste, particularly from
the fertilizer industry . (45)
Since the 195Os, fluoride
as industrial toxin has remained largely
unknown to the public, replaced by
fluoride as children's friend and creator
of beautiful smiles. The 1930s trend
toward its removal from the environment
has been reversed with a vengeance. For
example, in 1972 the newly formed EPA did
a survey of atmospheric fluoride
polluters. It found that five of the top
six typically didn't bother to control
their fluoride emissions at all and
weren't measuring emissions. (46) The most
lax was the iron and steel industry,
which, according to the report, was also
the biggest fluoride emitter. (47) And why
should these industries worry, as
regulatory agencies have maintained --
ever since water fluoridation - that
industrial fluoride emissions are harmless
to humans? As the EPA report stated: "The
fluorides currently emitted [by industry]
may damage economic crops, farm animals,
and materials of decoration [i.e., flowers
and ornamental plants] and construction
[i.e. buildings, statuary and glass]...
"...[H]owever, the potential to cause
fluoride effects in man is negligible."
(48) Or, as another EPA report puts it,
"It is clear that fluoride emissions from
primary aluminum plants have no
significant effect on human health.
Fluoride emissions, however, do have
adverse effects on livestock and
vegetation." (49) In other words, the
stuff withers plants, cripples cows, and
even eats holes in stone, but it doesn't
hurt people. Nature ever surprises.
When it comes to water pollution, of
course, industry has even less reason to
fear conviction for damage to human
health. The government's fluoridation
studies have supposedly established beyond
a doubt that hundreds of thousands of tons
of fluoride a year can be poured directly
into the nation's drinking water supplies
with a "wide margin of safety" for humans.
So industrial fluoride emitters only have
to worry about the fish when they poison
nearby bodies of water. The same
concentrations added to human drinking
water for cavity prevention can be fatal
to freshwater fish. (50)
When new scientific
evidence threatens fluoride's protected
pollutant status, the government
immediately appoints a commission,
typically composed of several veteran
fluoride defenders and no opponents;
usually, these commissions dismiss the new
evidence and reaffirm the status quo. When
one didn't in 1983, the government simply
altered the findings. It's an instructive
In 1983, the Public Health Service
convened a panel
of "world-class experts" to conduct
pro forma review of safety data on
fluoride in drinking water. A panel transcript
of the private deliberations revealed
its members discovering that much of the
vaunted evidence of fluoride's safety
barely existed. (51) The 1983 panel
recommended caution, especially in regard
to fluoride exposure for children, (52)
but its chair, Jay R. Shapiro, then with
the National Institutes of Health, was
aware that recommendations which
conflicted with government fluoride policy
might run into trouble. In an attached
memo, Shapiro remarked, "[B]ecause the
report deals with sensitive political
issues which may or may not be acceptable
to the PHS [Public Health Service], it
runs the risk of being modified at a
higher level...." (53)
Shapiro was prescient. When Surgeon
General Everett Koop's office released the
official report a month later, the panel's
most important conclusions and
recommendations had been thrown out,
apparently without consulting its members.
"When contacted," wrote Daniel Grossman,
"...members of the panel assembled by the
Public Health Service expressed surprise
at their report's conclusions: They never
received copies of the final -- altered --
version. EPA scientist Edward Ohanian, who
observed the panel's deliberations
recalled being 'baffled' when the agency
received its report." (54)
All the government's alterations were in
one direction and any conclusion
suggesting low doses of fluoride might be
harmful was thrown out. In its place, the
government substituted this blanket
statement: "There exists no directly
applicable scientific documentation of
adverse medical effects at levels of
fluoride below 8 ppm [parts per million]."
This contradicted the panel's final draft,
which firmly recommended that "the
fluoride content of drinking water should
be no greater than 1.4-2.4 ppm for
children up to and including age 9 because
of a lack of information regarding
fluoride effect on the skeleton in
children (to age 9), and potential
cardiotoxic effects [heart damage]..." All
that, and more, was tossed out by the
To quote from the
transcript of the panel's meeting:
Dr. Wallach: "You would have to have rocks
in your head, in my opinion, to allow your
child much more than 2 ppm."
Dr. Rowe: "I think we all agree on that."
But in 1985, basing its action on the
altered report issued by Surgeon General
Koop, EPA raised the amount of fluoride
allowed in drinking water from 2 to 4 ppm
for children and everybody else
Bones of Contention
What are the effects of
the decades-long increase in fluoride
exposure on the nation's health? The best
answer is, given the size and
pervasiveness of the motive for bias and
the extreme politicization of science on
this question, no one knows. Recently,
scientists have taken a new look,
especially at the most likely place to
find fluoride damage: human bones, where
it accumulates. In the past two years,
eight epidemiological studies by
apparently disinterested scientists have
suggested that water fluoridation may have
increased the rate of bone fractures in
females and males of all ages across the
U.S. (58) The latest study published in
the Journal of the American Medical
Association (JAMA) found that "low levels
of fluoride may increase the risk of hip
fracture in the elderly." (59) These
results, if correct, would also implicate
industrial fluoride pollution. Another
group likely to show damage from fluoride
is young males. Since 1957, the bone
fracture rate among male children and
adolescents has increased sharply in the
U.S. according to the National Center for
Health Statistics. (60) The U.S. hip
fracture rate is now the highest in the
world, reports the National Research
Council. (61) "...Clearly," wrote JAMA in
an editorial, "it is now appropriate to
revisit the issue of water fluoridation."
Fluoride and cancer, too, have been linked
by the government's own animal
carcinogenicity test. (63) Evidence that
fluoride is a carcinogen has cropped up
since at least the 1940s, but the
government has dismissed it all. A 1956
federal study found nearly twice as many
bone defects (of a type considered
possibly pre-malignant) among young males
in the fluoridated city of Newburgh, New
York, as compared with the unfluoridated
control city of Kingston; this finding,
however, was considered spurious and was
not followed up. (64) For a long time, the
government avoided performing its official
animal carcinogenicity test -- which, if
positive, would require regulatory action
against fluoride. It had to be pushed into
In 1975, John Yiamouyiannis, a biochemist
and controversial fluoridation opponent,
and Dean Burk, a retired National Cancer
Institute (NCI) official, reported a 5 to
10 percent increase in total cancer rates
in U.S. cities which had fluoridated their
water supplies. (65) Whether
scientifically valid or not, the paper did
trigger congressional hearings in 1977, at
which it was revealed, incredibly, that
the government had never cancer-tested
fluoride. Congress ordered the NCI to
Twelve years later, in 1989, the study was
finally completed. It found "equivocal
evidence" that fluoride caused bone cancer
in male rats. (66) The NCI was immediately
directed to examine cancer trends in the
U.S. population that might be
fluoride-related. The NCI found that
nationwide evidence "...of a rising rate
of bone and joint cancer of all ages
combined, due mainly to trends under the
age of 20, was seen in the 'fluoridated'
counties but not in the 'non-fluoridated'
counties....The larger increase in males
under the age of 20 seen in the aggregate
data for all bone and joint cancers is
seen only in the 'fluoridated' counties."
The NCI also did more detailed studies
focused on several counties in Washington
and Iowa. Once again, "When restricted to
percent under the age of 20, the rates of
bone and joint cancer in both sexes rose
47 percent from 1973-80 to 1981-87 in the
fluoridated areas of Washington and Iowa
and declined 34 percent in the non-high
fluoridated areas. For osteosarcomas [bone
cancers] in males under 20 [emphasis
added], the rate increased 70 percent in
the fluoridated areas and decreased four
percent in the non-fluoridated areas."
But after applying sophisticated
statistical tests, the NCI concluded that
these findings, like those in Newburgh in
1956, were spurious.
It was commission time again.
The new commission, chaired by venerable
fluoridation proponent and U.S. Public
Health Service official Frank E. Young,
concluded in its final report that "...its
year-long investigation has found no
evidence establishing an association
between fluoride and cancer in humans." As
for the evidence on bone fractures, the
commission merely stated, "further studies
are required." And finally, as always:
"The U.S. Public Health Service should
continue to support optimal fluoridation
of drinking water." (69)
"If fluoride presents any risks to the
public at the levels to which the vast
majority of us are exposed," intoned U.S.
Assistant Secretary for Health, James G.
Mason, when releasing the report, "those
risks are so small that they have been
impossible to detect. In contrast, the
benefits are great and easy to detect."
(70) That is, fewer cavities in children.
There are signs, however,
that 50 years of official unanimity on
this subject may be disintegrating.
Referring to the government's animal
study, James Huff, a director of the U.S.
National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences, told a 1992 meeting he believes
"that the reason these animals got a few
osteosarcomas [bone cancers] was because
they were given fluoride...Bone is the
target organ for fluoride." In other
words, the findings were not "equivocal"
"Perhaps we need to learn more about this
chemical," said Huff. (71) Others feel
more than enough has already been learned.
William Marcus, an EPA senior science
adviser and toxicologist was indignant.
"In my opinion," he said, "fluoride is a
carcinogen by any standard we use. I
believe EPA should act immediately to
protect the public, not just on the cancer
data, but on the evidence of bone
fractures, arthritis, mutagenicity and
other effects." Marcus adds that a
still-unreleased study by the New Jersey
State Health Department has found that the
bone cancer rate is six times higher --
among young males -- in fluoridated
"The level of fluoride the government
allows the public is based on
scientifically fraudulent information and
altered reports," charges Robert Carton,
an EPA environmental scientist and past
president of its employee union, Local
2050, National Federation of Federal
Employees. The EPA
union has been campaigning for six
years against what it terms the
"politicization of science" at the agency,
citing fluoride as the archetypal case.
"People can be harmed simply by drinking
the water," Carton warns. (73)
A subcommittee headed by Congressman Ted
Weiss (D-N.Y.) is investigating the
government's handling of the evidence on
fluoride's safety. And there the matter
rests -- until the next commission.
Does fluoridation reduce
cavities in children? Almost everyone
feels certain that it does, but only
because trusted authorities have told them
so, and those authorities in turn received
their information from leaders who, as the
original spin-doctor noted, must be
influenced if you want to make the public
Actually, over the years, many health
professionals -- especially abroad -- have
decided the beneficial effects of fluoride
are mostly hokum; but open debate has been
stifled if not strangled. Repeatedly
dentists and doctors who were regarded as
paragons of professional excellence --
when they supported fluoride -- have been
vilified and professionally ostracized
after they changed their minds. During the
early 1980s, New Zealand's most prominent
fluoridation advocate was John
Colquhoun, the country's chief
dental officer. Then he decided to gather
some results. "I was an ardent
fluoridationist, you see. I wanted to show
people how good it was..."
"When as chair of the Fluoridation
Promotion Committee, I gathered these
statistics...I observed that...the
percentage of children who were free of
dental decay was higher in the
unfluoridated part of most health
districts in New Zealand." (74) The
national health department refused to
allow Colquhoun to publish these findings,
and he was encouraged to resign.
Now Colquhoun writes that "new
evidence...suggests that the harmful
effects of water fluoridation are more
real than is generally admitted while the
claimed dental benefit is negligible."
A more recent example is Canadian
physician Richard G. Foulkes , who is
currently being accused by his former
colleague, Brent Friesen, chief medical
officer of Calgary, AB., of "a classical
case of manipulation of information and
selective use...to promote the quackery of
In 1973, as a special consultant to the
health minister of British Columbia,
Foulkes had authored a report recommending
mandatory fluoridation for the province.
But, after reviewing the evidence, he has
concluded that "fluoridation of community
water supplies can no longer be held to be
safe or effective in the reduction of
tooth decay....Even in 1973, we should
have known this was a dangerous chemical."
(76) He adds that "there is, also, a
not-too-subtle relationship between the
objective [the promotion of fluoridation]
and the needs of major industries..." (77)
"I was conned," Foulkes thinks, "by a
powerful lobby." (78)
NOTE: Joel Griffiths is a medical writer
who lives in New York City.
1. Janet Raloff, The St.
Regis Syndromes Science News, July 19,
1980 pp.42-43. The account w as verified
by F. Henry Lickers, director,
environmental division Mohawk council of
Akwesasne, Cornwall Ontario, Canada. For
primary data on cattle damage at
Akwesasne, see Krook, L and Maylin, G. A.
"Industrial Fluoride Pollution," The
Cornell Veterinarian, Vol. 69, supplement
8 April 1979.
2. The pollution continues today, but at
reduced levels; cows survive to about half
their normal life spans.
3. Robert Tomsho "Dumping Grounds" Wall
Street Journal. November 29 1990.
4. Karen st. Hilaire, "St. Regis Indians
to Settle Fluonde Dispute" Syracuse
Post-Standard, January 8, 1985.
5. See also accounts cited above for
6. Author's 1992 interview with F. Henry
7. Summary Review of Health Effects
Associated with Hvdrogen Fluonde and
Related Compounds,' s EPA Report Number
600/8-29/002F, December 1988 p. 1-1.
8. John Yiamouyiannis, Lifesaver's Guide
to Fluoridation (Delaware Ohio: Safe Water
Foundation, 1983), p. 1; see also D. Rose
and J.R. Maner "Environmental Fiuonde,"
National Research Council of Canada
Publication Number NRCC 16081,1977.
9. Enginering and Cost Effectiveness Study
of Fluoride Emissions Control, U.S. EPA
report, Volume 1, Number SN 16893.000,
January 1972, p. 1-3, et seq.
1O Final Draft for the Drinking Water
Criteria Document on Fluoride, EPA Repon
Number PB85-199321, Apnl 1985, p. 11-5.
11. "Treatment and Recovery of Fluoride
Industrial Wastes," EPA Repon Number
PB-234 447, March 1974, p. 5.
12. E. Jerard and J.B. Patnck, "The
Summing of Fluoride Exposures,"
International Journal of Environmental
Studies, Volume 3, 1973, p. 143.
13. G.J. Cox, "New Knowledge of Fluoride
in Relation to Dental Caries," Journal of
American Water Works Association, Volume
31:1926-30, 1939; see also standard
toxicology manuals. Tube terms "fluorine"
and "fluoride" were used interchangeably
in early literature.
14. Air Pollutants Affecting the
Performance of Domestic Animals U.S.
Department of Agriculture Handbook No.
380, August 1970, p. 41.
15. Kaj Roholm. Fluorine Intoxication
(London: H.K. Lewis & Co., 1937), pp.
16. Jerard and Patnck, op. cit., pp.
17. USDA Handbook, op. cit., p. 46. Around
industrial plants, how-ever, grazing
animals such as cows get the highest
18. Author's 1992 interview.
19. Roholm, op. cit., p. 46.
20 H. Ost," The Fight Against Injurious
Industrial Gases." Angew Chem Volurne
20,1907, pp. 1689-93. Also Roholm op.cit,
pp. 36 41.
21. Kaj Roholm "The Fog Disaster in the
Meuse Vallev: A Fluorine Intoxication"
Journal ofIndustrial Toxicology Vol. 19,
1937, pp. 126-37.
22. Lloyd DeEds, "Chronic Fluorine
Intoxication," Medicine. Vol. 12, 1933,
pp. 1 60.
23. R. Berk, et al, Aluminum: Profile of
the Industry (New York: McGraw-Hill,
1985), p. 5.
24. Cox, op. cit
25. G.L. Waldbott, et aL, Fluoridation:
The Great Dilemma (Lawrence, Kans.:
Coronado Press. 1978), pp. 304-05, and
F.B. Exner, Economic Motives Behind
Fluoridation (monograph) (Toronto:
Westlake.~, Press, 1966), pp. 1-2.
26. Elise Jeranl, ed., The Case of the
Protected Pollutant (New York: Independent
Phi Beta Kappa Study Group, privately
27. ALCOA's sponsorship was verified in a
1992 interview by the author with a Mellon
Institute public information spokesperson
28. GJ . Cox, ' Discussion, " Journal of
the American Medical / Associate on Vol.
113, 1938, p. 1753.
29. In his 1939 public address in
Johnstown, Pennsylvania. before any safety
studies had been conducted, Cox urged that
city to fluoridate its water supplies
immediately. They turned him down. See
Waldbott, op. clt., p. 304.
30. Waldbott, op.cit., pp. 296-301; Exner,
op. cit., p. 4. Fluoride has also been the
worst pollutant in the phosphate and iron
industries (Exner, pp.3, 6) re: iron and
steel see Engineering and Cost, EPA, op.
cit., pp.111 5940.
31. "ThreeWin in Fume Suit, " The
Oregonian (Portland), September 17,1955.
32. 'Seven Enter Fluoride Case," The
Oregonian, October 15, 1957.
33. Heanngs before the Committee on
Interstate and Foreign Commerce, U.S.
House of Representatives, 83rd Congress,
Second Session on H.R. 2341, May 25 27,
1954, pp. 46-48.
34. Ibid The accuracy of Birrningham's
testimony concerning the Wrentham school
was confirmed by John Small, Information
Specialist, Fluorides and Health, National
Institute of Dental Research. Interview
with author, 1992.
35. Birmingham testimony, Op. cit, p. 51.
Newspaper accounts from the period also
refer to Ewing as ALCOA's "chief counsel."
Later ASIA responding to charges that it
had been behind the fluoridation scheme,
claimed that Ewlng was just another of its
many lawyers and that his fees had been
much lower. Undisputed, however, is that
Ewing was an extremely wealthy corporate
lawyer and that his major client was ALCOA
36. Time, "Aluminum," November 10,1941.
37. Birmingham testimony, op.cit.,
confirmed by Bernays, at age 100, in a
1991 interview with author.
38. 'The Original Spin Doctor. "
Washington Post, November '3, 1991, p. B
39. Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda (New
York: H. Liveright, 1928), p. 18.
40. Ibid, pp.9, 49.
41. Ibid., p. 53.
42. Bette Hilernan, 'Fluoridation of
Water," Chemical and Engineering .Views,
Volume66, August 1,1988, p. 37.
43. Author's interview with Exner's
associate Len Greenall, 1992, Bntish
Columbia. Canada; more recently a similar
case of possible arson involved the files
of Greenpeace scientist Pat Costner in
1991 (CAIB, Number 41, Summer 1991, pp. 42
44. Letter to author from American Water
Works Association, Denver Colorado, public
information department, 1991.
45. A 1983 letter from an EPA
administrator dessnbes the system: "In
regard to the use of Sulfuric acid as a
source of fluoride for foundation, this
agency regards such use as an ideal
environmental solution to a long-standing
problem. By recovenng by-product sulfuric
acid from phosphate enilizer
manufacturing, water and air pollution are
minimized, and water utilities have a low
cost source of blonde available to
them...." (Rebecca Hammer, EPA Deputy
assistant administrator for water, March
46. "Engineering and Cost...," op. cit.,
pp. 1-1, II-1, 11-L
47. Ibid., p. 1-3.
48. Ibid, p. 1-2.
49. Primary Aluminum: Draft Guidelines for
Control of Fluoride Emissions from
Existing Aluminum Plants, EPA report
Number Ps2s4s38, 1979, pp. 11-9.
50. Berk, et aL, "Aluminum: Profile...,"
op. cit., p.l48.
51. Joel Griffiths, " 83
Transcripts Show Fluoride Disagreements
," Medical Tribune, April 20. 1989, p.
52. Joel Griffiths, " Fluoride
Report Softened ," Medical Tribune,
April 27, 1989.
53. Daniel Grossman, "Fluoride's Revenge,"
The Progressive December 990 p. 31.
55. Griffiths 'Fluoride...," Op. cit., p.
57. Griffiths, "83 Transcripts...," Op.
58. Cooper, et al., Journal of the
American Medical Association, Vol. 266
Julv24, 1991, pp.513-14. See also Sowers,
et al,"A Prospective Study of Bone Mineral
Content and Fractures in Communities with
Different Fluoride Exposure," American
Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 133, No. 7,
pp. t's49-60. For a summary of the most
recent studies and a review of the
scientific debate, see "Summary of
Workshop on Drinking Water Fluoride
Influence on Hip Fracture and Bone
Health," Osteoporosis international, Vol.
2, 1992, pp. 109-17.
59. Christa Danielson. et al.. "Hip
Fractures and Fluoridation in Utah's
Elderly Population," JAMA Vol 268, August
12, 1992, p. 746-4S.
60. Author's 1992 interview with Sharon
Ramirez, statistician, National Center for
Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for
Disease Control. Hyattsville, Md.
61. U.S. National Research Council, Diet
and Health (Washington, D.C.: National
Academy Press, 1989). p. 121.
62. JAMA, "Hip...." op. cit.
63. Not just anything causes cancer in the
government tests. The majority of
substances tested, all suspected
carcinogens, prove negative, according to
the National Cancer Institute. And there's
good reason to worry about the few, like
asbestos and DES. that do prove positive,
says the NCI brochure March 1990.
64. U.S. National Research Council.
Drinking Water and Health, (Washington,
D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1977),
65. John Yiamouyiannis and Dean Berk,
"Fluoridation of Public Water Systems and
Cancer Death Rates in Humans," presented
at the 67th annual meeting of the American
Society of Biological Chemists, and
published in Fluoride, Volume 10, Number
3; 1977, pp. 102-23. Follow-up studies
were conducted here and abroad which
claimed to refute this paper and it
remains controversial .
66. U.S. Public Health Service, Review of
Fluoride Benefits and Risks (Washington
D.C.: Department of Health and Human
Services, February l991), p. iii.
57. Ibid., p. F-2.
6S. Ibid., p. F-3.
69. Ibid., pp. 84-so.
70. HHS press release, February 19,1991.
71. Mark Lowey, "Scientists Question
Health Risks of Fluoride," Calgary Herald
(Canada), February 28,1992.
72. Author's interview 1992*
73. Author's interview 1992.
74. Legislative Assembly for the
Australian Capital Territory, Standing
Committee on Social Policy, "Inquiry into
Water Fluoridation in the Act [sicl,"
January 1991, pp. 183-84.
75. John Colquhoun, Community Health
Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3, 1990, p. 288.
76. Mark Lowey, "Doctor Warns Fluoride
Risky," Calgary Herald, January
77. Richard G. Foulkes, Letter to Thomas
Perrv, Minister of Advanced Education,
Victoria, British Columbia, March 3, 199'.
78. Tom Hawthorne "MD Who Pushed
Fluoridation Now Opposes Idea," The
Province (Vancouver), January 26, 1992.