Fluoridation on trialLargely unseen, a lawsuit that aims to outlaw public water fluoridation is moving forward in the federal District Court of Northern California. In earthquake-prone California, this suit could eventually shake a pillar of U.S. public health policy.
Hundreds of studies showing fluoride’s detrimental effects on the human brain constitute the heart of the lawsuit. They are like the tremors that foreshadow a future quake, signs that a bigger shift is
coming. Amid these clear warning signs of a flawed policy with large impacts, the news media are largely silent. Meanwhile, virtually every American ingests fluoride via the water supply or foods prepared with fluoridated water.
What constitutes the “critical mass” for a news story worthy of national attention? Presumably it is the heft of newsworthiness weighed on the scale of editorial judgment. Why, then, does the amply documented evidence of public water fluoridation’s adverse effects come up light on the editorial scale? What prevents it from being the ongoing story of lackadaisical science and violation of the public trust that it has been for nearly 70 years?
The suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeks to establish that the fluoridation of public water supplies poses an unacceptable risk. Within the politically sheltered walls of the courtroom, the plaintiffs will make their case. They include the Fluoride Action Network, Food and Water Watch, the Organic Consumers Association, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology and other groups, plus individuals who have been harmed by fluoride.
Already, plaintiffs have breached the stone wall of government resistance to anything new on the supposedly “settled science” of fluoridation. On Feb. 7, District Court Judge Edward Chen ruled that “discovery” could proceed in the case, despite government objections. This means that FAN and its allies can broaden the evidentiary scope of the trial beyond the already voluminous quantity of documents submitted.
All well and good, from the plaintiffs’ perspective. But what about the major news media? They have almost totally ignored the story, which means, in a certain sense, that nothing is happening. To judge by the major media, no one of standing is concerned about the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation.
Literally hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies have raised red flags on fluoride safety. In the past year, for example, the rigorously controlled University of Toronto study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, undeniably linked pregnant women’s fluoride intake to lower IQ in their offspring. Yet these studies remain all but invisible to the public because the popular press avoids them.
In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control cited fluoridation as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century. But while the other nine have been adopted by virtually all nations, fluoridation continues to be widely rejected. More than 95 percent of the world drinks unfluoridated water, including 98 percent of all Europeans.
The CDC pronouncement was made years before hundreds of studies on fluoride’s neurotoxicity became available. Yet it stands like a granite monument, impervious to the challenges of science, the ethical standard of informed consent, and common-sense precaution.
Eventually, we will carve an epitaph on that monument, a joyless acknowledgement of a mistake too long in the fixing. Like leaded gasoline, DDT, asbestos, PCBs, and other false blessings, fluoridation will take its place among industry’s bad actors. At best, it will serve as a cautionary tale for future generations seeking to harness public policy to the public good.
The fluoridation story meets any reasonable test of newsworthiness. The public is waiting for coverage.