Note: this article was originally published on May 10, 2013 as the fourth installment of my six part series for Mismanaging Perception on the unsuccessful campaign to fluoridate Portland’s water supply. It’s worth noting that this was my only guest submission to Blue Oregon to ever be rejected.
By now you’ve likely received your special election ballot in the mail, and if you’ve been focused on the issue of adding fluorosilicic acid, (aka fluoride) into our drinking water, you’ve likely already voted and mailed your ballot. If you’re one of the thousands of Portlanders who haven’t yet voted and are undecided, well, you’ve got a lot of arguments to weigh.
The pro-fluoride lobby is represented by a well funded group called ‘Healthy Kids Healthy Portland’ (HKHP) that formed after a failed attempt by Upstream Public Health to pass fluoridation through city hall without a public vote. These closed door lobbying sessions were kept off the city’s calendar.
HKHP argues that Portland is in the midst of a “dental crisis”, and that fluoridation of our drinking water is the best way to combat this problem. Yet Portland’s rate of tooth decay is half that of Oregon’s statewide statistics, and far below the national average where a majority of municipalities are fluoridated. In fact, according to a KATU News investigation that required two Freedom of Information Act requests, fluoridation produces almost no reduction to tooth decay statistics.
This isn’t the first time fluoridation has been proposed in Portland. Three times in the last 56 years Portlanders have rejected fluoridation of Bull Run tap water. Fluoride proponents have repeatedly argued that since chlorine is added to drinking water, adding fluoride chemicals should be acceptable as well. However, chlorine is added to remove bacteria and make our water potable, not as a form of medication.
In this case, fluoridation is being marketed as the prescription to provide ‘dental equity’. But what about the issue of consent? And what about those people who have prior conditions that would make them especially susceptible to a bone-damaging fluoride overdose called skeletal fluorosis?
The argument could be made that in some circumstances, compulsory medication is warranted. Vaccinations for highly contagious, life-threatening diseases like smallpox are a good example of when such a policy makes sense. This cannot be argued for fluoridation. Cavities are not, and never will be contagious. Can we then honestly say that mandatory ingesting of fluoride in our drinking water without consent is ethical?
Many organizations are also concerned with how accumulated fluoride effects our soil and waterways. Recently, Food & Water Watch, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s executive director, Columbia Riverkeepers, and the local chapter of Sierra Club all articulated their opposition to fluoridation.
From Sierra Club:
“Sierra Club opposes fluoridation because it would degrade some of the purest drinking water in the world. Kids are already bombarded with multiple toxins from plastics, pesticides and air pollution.”
From Columbia Riverkeepers:
“What we add to our drinking water, we add to our rivers and our salmon. Fluoride is a toxic pollutant that harms salmon and other aquatic life. At a time when many families continue to rely on the Columbia’s fisheries as an important source of nutrition and employment, we are concerned about a new source of toxic pollution into the Columbia River.”
From CRITFC executive director Paul Lumley:
“The City of Portland estimates that 215,000 pounds of fluoride will be added to the water supply each year. The Columbia and Willamette systems are already facing water quality concerns. Adding another component to an already degraded system is a step in the wrong direction.”
Fluoridation proponents cite the fact that some tap water contains trace amounts of naturally occurring fluoride as proof that adding more is safe. However, fluorosislic acid is not the same as naturally occurring fluoride. Fluorosilicic acid is actually an industrial byproduct of fertilizer production.
We’ve been told that people of lower income and minorities are at a higher risk of tooth decay. While this may be true, many people of color are also at risk for other health issues that fluoridation could worsen. Last month, the local chapter of the NAACP chose to formally oppose fluoride as well.
“Children growing up in communities of color already face risks from many different environmental chemicals. They do not need more chemicals added to their drinking water. People with diabetes would be affected by adding fluoride to the water. African-Americans have a higher rate of diabetes.”
Proponents claim there is scientific consensus about fluoridation in the United States, however, the vast majority of European nations do not add fluoride to their drinking water due to health and environmental concerns. Just last month, the health minister of Israel decided to end the practice of mandatory fluoridation over similar safety concerns.
Clearly there is not consensus, as more and more nations and organizations oppose fluoridation. In such a situation, applying the precautionary principle is the logical conclusion. At a recent fluoridation debate hosted by the Multnomah County Democrats, Clean Water Portland representative Rick North cautioned, “We know fluoride can cause harm. Regardless of the PPM, once introduced into drinking water, we can no longer control the dose. If we cannot control the dose, we cannot control the harm.”
There are smarter, more responsible ways to achieve dental health. Fluoridation is a potentially risky, nonconsensual practice. With so much doubt and division within our community over an issue of such importance, the ethical choice is clear. Portland deserves better. Please vote NO to fluoridation.
Ballots are due by May 21st.
Original images copyright Hart Noecker and Rebel Metropolis.