Remember that old expression?
Well, turns out there is something in the water. But, it’s not the T virus.
I’m talking about the F-word: Fluoride.
Unless you live outside of the U.S., where water fluoridation has been rejected in most places, like western Europe (1) , you may have heard of the controversy about fluoride and its’ presence in our water. And this argument is by no means a new one. It’s been heavily debated for decades among the hard hitters: dentists, scientists, toxicologists, they all bring a different perspective to the table.
The American Dental Hygienists’ Association states that fluoridated water is an effective way to fight tooth decay to the masses. (2)
It’s even been listed as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century. (3)
But that’s not the whole story. What kind of blog posting would this be if this were the only source? You have to dig a little deeper to see why there’s so much hot air.
Let’s start with the basics: What the heck is fluoride?
Fluoride is the name given to any compound that contains fluorine, a dangerous gas. It’s mainly found in certain minerals, like fluorite, and also in natural freshwater bodies in small doses. By a small dose, I mean between .01 to .3ppm (parts per million, 1 milligram for every million milligrams), there’s less than a drop of this stuff per L of water.(4)
For a better visualization, imagine an inch in 16 miles. (5) Yeah, it’s infinitesimal. But, when you talk about ppms, the devil is in the details. Even a spike from .01 to 1ppm could be significant through long-term exposure.
Fluoride, as stated, is already found in fresh water. The question is, what dosage is acceptable? The USDA states that adult men and women should ingest no more than 10mg of fluoride per day. (6) This number is a bit biased, however. Since the U.S. fluoridates its water already, most of what we eat and drink will most likely contain much more of it even if it didn’t have fluoride to begin with. Try it with your Sauvignon next time, it gives it a nice woody taste.
So the next question is: How does this stuff get into my water?
Several ways, actually.
- Au naturale, from rocks and pores
- Disposed of from aluminum plants (Boooo)
- Voluntarily added in communities for dental hygiene (7)
Fluoride comes in lots of different forms, but the three forms most debated about are sodium fluoride, hydrogen fluoride, or sodium fluorosilicate, all of which are known byproducts in aluminum plants.
Here’s where things heat up (bad pun, bad!): Fluoride is a known waste of aluminum smelting, a process where aluminum is extracted from its ores, producing not just fluoride in liquid form but also as its gassy cousin, hydrogen fluoride, which is a serious crop and animal killer. Now, aluminum companies produce a lot of this stuff. But how much of this stuff can really put a dent into our health?
Just as an example of how much we make : In 2001, the USATDSR (U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry) reported that 2.5 million pounds of hydrogen fluoride were sent off-site from 991 companies. (8) Now that’s just a big number, though. It shouldn’t be taken without a grain of salt. The report also states that 230 million lbs of hydrogen fluoride were recycled, on and offsite. And this is a total, not specific to aluminum plants, but you catch the drift.
So this is the gist of fluoride. I tried to condense as much as I could without sounding too technical.
In my next post, more on the pros to fluoridating water, and of course, the cons.
Now, go brush your teeth.
Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist, but do appreciate a scientific approach, where all hypothesis are brought to the discussion. I am an amateur researcher with a journalist background who wants to know more about topics that interests me.
…Plus, I never want to have to be caught sounding like this lady:
References , yo