Date Published: 22/09/2000
Author: George Glasser
Preprare yourself for the tragic fable of the chemist, the water board, the dentist and his life.
Once, there was a dentist. His name was Lester. For many years, like all the other dentists he knew, Lester believed that fluoride in the drinking water was good for everyone. Like all the other dentists, Lester had learnt in dental school that fluoride reduces tooth decay. And, like all the other dentists, Lester believed that fluoride was fluoride.
Then, one day, he met a chemist and began discussing drinking water fluoridation.
The chemist asked what kind of fluoride was being used to fluoridate the drinking water. Lester replied: ‘We are simply adjusting the fluoride level in the water by adding one part per million of, well, just fluoride.’
‘There is no such thing as “just fluoride”,’ said the chemist.
Lester scratched his head. ‘But they told me that it was only fluoride they are adding to the water.’
The chemist laughed heartily. ‘Fluorine is the most reactive, electronegative element and it’s never found alone in nature,’ he said. ‘There are many kinds of fluorides: for instance, calcium fluoride is found naturally in water. Then there are other fluorides such as lead fluoride, aluminium fluoride, etc. If you add fluoride to the water it has to be a compound. You can’t just add fluoride to the water, so which one is it?’
Lester felt silly. He didn’t know.
The next day Lester went to the library to check the chemistry books and learnt that calcium fluoride is, indeed, found naturally in the water. He also discovered that calcium fluoride is almost insoluble and could not be easily absorbed by the body. And his friend the chemist was quite right - there were innumerable fluoride compounds.
Now intrigued, Lester looked up some scientific studies about water fluoridation. He read that in laboratory tests, workers use a very pure grade of sodium fluoride and purified water to do their research. He discovered that sodium fluoride is taken up by the body much more readily than calcium fluoride. His friend was right. The dentist wondered how anyone could say that calcium fluoride is the same as sodium fluoride.
The next day, Lester called his water department to ask if they were adding sodium fluoride or calcium fluoride to his drinking water. The WD manager said that they were adding a product called silicofluorides to the water. The WD manager said they bought a very low grade product because it would be too expensive to use a good grade and, anyway, the public health people would not pay for a good quality calcium fluoride, because, they said, fluoride is fluoride, no matter where it comes from. By now, Lester was completely bewildered.
‘Where do you buy these silicofluorides from?’ he asked. The WD manager said that the silicofluorides – known as hexafluorsilicic acid – are the toxic waste product from phosphate fertilizer pollution scrubbers. The dentist was aghast. ‘You have to be crazy putting that stuff in the water!’
The water department manager agreed because, he said, the hexafluorsilicic acid also contains other toxic substances such as arsenic, beryllium, mercury, lead and many more. He said he didn’t drink the city water because many of the contaminants in the fluoridation agent cause health problems. ‘For instance,’ he said, ‘arsenic causes prostate, bladder, kidney, skin and lung cancers and there is no safe level for arsenic.’
Lester was appalled. He asked the manager why he did not stop fluoridating the water with this pollution scrubber liquor. ‘And why would anyone add any amount of a known carcinogen to the water?’
Shrugging, the manager replied, ‘I’m just doing my job. The public health people have their agenda, and I have a family to feed.’
After a sleepless night, Lester contemplated the fluoridation dilemma as he soaped himself in the shower. ‘They say they are simply adjusting the level of natural fluoride in the water – which is calcium fluoride – but they are using a pure grade of sodium fluoride and very pure water for the rat experiments in the laboratory. But they are adding toxic pollution scrubber liquor to my drinking water!’ It didn’t make sense.
He called a man at the dental association and told him what he had learnt. The man said, coldly: ‘If you value your licence to practise, don’t ever mention this subject again!’
Lester was shocked.
He had worked hard and was very proud of his practice and his two classic cars. He couldn’t bear to lose them. He thought about his wife and family and how they would miss their luxury home with its four bathrooms and a jacuzzi, the private schools and foreign vacations. After a while he made a decision. ‘We won’t drink the tap water. We’ll buy bottled water.’ But he was not a happy man as he walked into the reception room and greeted his first patient of the day.
Several months later he visited his friend the doctor for his annual check-up and was stunned to learn that he had prostate cancer. He recalled the words of the water department manager. ‘Arsenic causes prostate cancer.’
Lester was shattered. He couldn’t understand it. Yet there was a reason. Despite taking care to drink only bottled water, Lester didn’t know that much more of the pollution-laced tap water is absorbed through the skin from bathing and washing clothes.
Although 64–91 per cent of exposure to waterborne contaminants is known to occur via dermal absorption, no studies have ever been done to determine the toxicity of pollution scrubber liquor – the fluoride used in water fluoridation schemes.