I confess: I'm a veteran anti-fluoridationist, thereby not
for the first time risking placing myself in the camp of
"right-wing kooks and fanatics." It has always been a bit of mystery
to me why left-environmentalists, who shriek in horror at a bit
of Alar on apples, who cry "cancer" even more absurdly than the
boy cried "Wolf," who hate every chemical additive known to man,
still cast their benign approval upon fluoride, a highly toxic and
probably carcinogenic substance. And not only let fluoride emissions
off the hook, but endorse uncritically the massive and continuing
dumping of fluoride into the nation's water supply.
First: the generalized case for and against fluoridation
of water. The case for is almost incredibly thin, boiling down to
the alleged fact of substantial reductions in dental cavities in
kids aged 5 to 9. Period. There are no claimed benefits for anyone
older than nine! For this the entire adult population of a fluoridated
area must be subjected to mass medication!
The case against, even apart from the specific evils
of fluoride, is powerful and overwhelming.
(1) Compulsory mass medication is medically evil,
as well as socialistic. It is starkly clear that one key to any
medication is control of the dose; different people, at different
stages of risk, need individual dosages tailored to their needs.
And yet with water compulsorily fluoridated, the dose applies to
everyone, and is necessarily proportionate to the amount of water
What is the medical justification for a guy who drinks
ten glasses of water a day receiving ten times the fluorine dose
of a guy who drinks only one glass? The whole process is monstrous
as well as idiotic.
(2) Adults, in fact children over nine, get no benefits
from their compulsory medication, yet they imbibe fluorides proportionately
to their water intake.
(3) Studies have shown that while kids 5 to 9 may
have their cavities reduced by fluoridation, said kids ages 9 to
12 have more cavities, so that after 12 the cavity benefits
disappear. So that, at best, the question boils down to:
are we to subject ourselves to the possible dangers of fluoridation
solely to save dentists the irritation of dealing with squirming
kids aged 5 to 9?
(4) Any parents who want to give their kids the dubious
benefits of fluoridation can do so individually: by giving
their kids fluoride pills, with doses regulated instead of haphazardly
proportionate to the kids' thirst; and/or, as we all know, they
can brush their teeth with fluoride-added toothpaste. How about
freedom of individual choice?
(5) Let us not omit the long-suffering taxpayer, who
has to pay for the hundreds of thousands of tons of fluorides poured
into the nation's socialized water supply every year. The days of
private water companies, once flourishing in the U.S., are long
gone, although the market, in recent years, has popped up in the
form of increasingly popular private bottled water even though far
more expensive than socialized free water.
Nothing loony or kooky about any of these arguments,
is there? So much for the general case pro and con fluoridation.
When we get to the specific ills of fluoridation, the case against
becomes even more overpowering, as well as grisly.
During the 1940s and 50s, when the successful push
for fluoridation was underway, the pro-forces touted the controlled
experiment of Newburgh and Kingston, two neighboring small cities
in upstate New York, with much the same demographics. Newburgh had
been fluoridated and Kingston had not, and the powerful pro-fluoridation
Establishment trumpeted the fact that ten years later, dental cavities
in kids 5 to 9 in Newburgh were considerably lower than in Kingston
(originally, the rates of every disease had been about the same
in the two places). OK, but the antis raising the disquieting fact
that, after ten years, both the cancer and the heart disease rates
were now significantly higher in Newburgh. How did the Establishment
treat this criticism? By dismissing it as irrelevant, as
kooky scare tactics. Oh?
Why were these and later problems and charges ignored
and overridden, and why the rush to judgment to inflict fluoridation
on America? Who was behind this drive, and how did the opponents
acquire the "right-wing kook" image?
THE DRIVE FOR FLUORIDATION
The official drive began abruptly just before the
end of World War II, pushed by the U.S. Public Health Service, then
in the Treasury Department. In 1945, the federal government selected
two Michigan cities to conduct an official "15-year" study; one
city, Grand Rapids, was fluoridated, a control city was left unfluoridated.
(I am indebted to a recent revisionist article on fluoridation by
the medical writer Joel Griffiths, in the left-wing muckraking journal
Covert Action Information Bulletin: "Fluoride: Commie Plot
or Capitalist Ploy?" [Fall 1992], pp. 26-28, 63-66.) Yet, before
five years were up, the government killed its own "scientific study,"
by fluoridating the water in the second city in Michigan. Why? Under
the excuse that its action was caused by "popular demand" for fluoridation;
as we shall see, the "popular demand" was generated by the government
and the Establishment itself. Indeed, as early as 1946, under the
federal campaign, six American cities fluoridated their water, and
87 more joined the bandwagon by 1950.
A key figure in the successful drive for fluoridation
was Oscar R. Ewing, who was appointed by President Truman in 1947
as head of the Federal Security Agency, which encompassed the Public
Health Service (PHS), and which later blossomed into our beloved
Cabinet office of Health, Education, and Welfare. One reason for
the left's backing of fluoridation in addition to its being
socialized medicine and mass medication, for them a good in itself
was that Ewing was a certified Truman Fair Dealer and leftist,
and avowed proponent of socialized medicine, a high official in
the then-powerful Americans for Democratic Action, the nation's
central organization of "anti-Communist liberals" (read: Social
Democrats or Mensheviks). Ewing mobilized not only the respectable
left but also the Establishment Center. The powerful drive for compulsory
fluoridation was spearheaded by the PHS, which soon mobilized the
nation's establishment organizations of dentists and physicians.
The mobilization, the national clamor for fluoridation,
and the stamping of opponents with the right-wing kook image, was
all generated by the public relations man hired by Oscar Ewing to
direct the drive. For Ewing hired none other than Edward L. Bernays,
the man with the dubious honor of being called the "father of public
relations." Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, was called "The
Original Spin Doctor" in an admiring article in the Washington
Post on the occasion of the old manipulator's 100th birthday
in late 1991. The fact that right-wing groups such as the John Birch
Society correctly called fluoridation "creeping socialism" and blamed
Soviet Communism as the source of the fluoridation campaign (no,
not Bolsheviks, guys: but a Menshevik-State Capitalist alliance,
see below) was used by the Bernaysians to discredit all the opposition.
As a retrospective scientific article pointed out
about the fluoridation movement, one of its widely distributed dossiers
listed opponents of fluoridation "in alphabetical order reputable
scientists, convicted felons, food faddists, scientific organizations,
and the Ku Klux Klan." (Bette Hileman, "Fluoridation of Water,"
Chemical and Engineering News 66 [August 1, 1988], p. 37;
quoted in Griffiths, p. 63) In his 1928 book Propaganda,
Bernays laid bare the devices he would use: Speaking of the "mechanism
which controls the public mind," which people like himself could
manipulate, Bernays added that "Those who manipulate the 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..." And the process of manipulating leaders of groups,
"either with or without their conscious cooperation," will "automatically
influence" the members of such groups.
In describing his practices as PR man for Beech-Nut
Bacon, Bernays tells how he would suggest to physicians to say publicly
that "it is wholesome to eat bacon." For, Bernays added, he "knows
as a mathematical certainty that large numbers of persons will follow
the advice of their doctors because he (the PR man) understands
the psychological relationship of dependence of men on their physicians."
(Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda [New York: Liveright, 1928],
pp. 9, 18, 49, 53. Quoted in Griffiths, p.63) Add "dentists" to
the equation, and substitute "fluoride" for "bacon," and we have
the essence of the Bernays propaganda campaign.
Before the Bernays campaign, fluoride was largely
known in the public mind as the chief ingredient of bug and rat
poison; after the campaign, it was widely hailed as a safe provider
of healthy teeth and gleaming smiles.
After the 1950s, it was all mopping up the
fluoridation forces had triumphed, and two-thirds of the nation's
reservoirs were fluoridated. There are still benighted areas of
the country left however (California is less than 16 percent fluoridated)
and the goal of the federal government and its PHS remains as "universal
Despite the blitzkrieg victory, however, doubts have
surfaced and gathered in the scientific community. Fluoride is a
non-biodegradable substance, which, in people, accumulates in teeth
and bone perhaps strengthening kiddies' teeth; but what about
human bones? Two crucial bone problems of fluorides brittleness
and cancer began to appear in studies, only to be systematically
blocked by governmental agencies. As early as 1956, a federal study
found nearly twice as many premalignant bone defects in young males
in Newbergh as in unfluoridated Kingston; but this finding was quickly
dismissed as "spurious."
Oddly enough, despite the 1956 study and carcinogenic
evidence popping up since the 1940s, the federal government never
conducted its own beloved animal carcinogenicity test on fluorides.
Finally, in 1975, biochemist John Yiamouyiannis and Dean Berk, a
retired official of the federal government's own National Cancer
Institute (NCI), presented a paper before the annual meeting of
the American Society of Biological Chemists. The paper reported
a 5 to 10 percent increase in total cancer rates in those U.S. cities
which had fluoridated their water. The findings were disputed, but
triggered congressional hearings two years later, where the government
revealed to shocked Congressmen that it had never tested fluoride
for cancer. Congress ordered the NCI to conduct such tests.
Talk about foot-dragging! Incredibly, it took the
NCI twelve years to finish its tests, finding "equivocal evidence"
that fluoride caused bone cancer in male rats. Under further direction
of Congress, the NCI studied cancer trends in the U.S., and found
nationwide evidence of "a rising rate of bone and joint cancer at
all ages," especially in youth, in counties that had fluoridated
their water, but no such rise was seen in "non-fluoridated" counties.
In more detailed studies, for areas of Washington
state and Iowa, NCI found that from the 1970s to the 1980s bone
cancer for males under 20 had increased by 70 percent in the fluoridated
areas of these states, but had decreased by 4 percent in
the non-fluoridated areas. Sounds pretty conclusive to me, but the
NCI set some fancy statisticians to work on the data, to conclude
that these findings, too, were "spurious." Dispute over this report
drove the federal government to one of its favorite ploys in virtually
every area: the allegedly expert, bipartisan, "value-free" commission.
The government had already done the commission bit
in 1983, when disturbing studies on fluoridation drove our old friend
the PHS to form a commission of "world-class experts" to review
safety data on fluorides in water. Interestingly, the panel found
to its grave concern that most of the alleged evidence of fluoride's
safety scarcely existed. The 1983 panel recommended caution on fluoride
exposure for children. Interestingly, the panel strongly recommended
that the fluoride content of drinking water be no greater than two
parts per million for children up to nine, because of worries about
the fluoride effect on children's skeletons, and potential heart
The chairman of the panel, Jay R. Shapiro of the National
Institute of Health, warned the members, however, that the PHS might
"modify" the findings, since "the report deals with sensitive political
issues." Sure enough, when Surgeon General Everett Koop released
the official report a month later, the federal government had thrown
out the panel's most important conclusions and recommendations,
without consulting the panel. Indeed, the panel never received copies
of the final, doctored, version. The government's alterations were
all in a pro-fluoride direction, claiming that there was no "scientific
documentation" of any problems at fluoride levels below 8 parts
In addition to the bone cancer studies for the late
1980s, evidence is piling up that fluorides lead to bone fractures.
In the past two years, no less than eight epidemiological studies
have indicated the fluoridation has increased the rate of bone fractures
in males and females of all ages. Indeed, since 1957, the bone fracture
rate among male youth has increased sharply in the United States,
and the U.S. hip fracture rate is now the highest in the world.
In fact, a study in the traditionally pro-fluoride Journal of the
American Medical Association (JAMA), August 12, 1992,
found that even "low levels of fluoride may increase the risk of
hip fracture in the elderly." JAMA concluded that "it is
now appropriate to revisit the issue of water fluoridation."
Clearly, it was high time for another federal commission.
During 1990-91, a new commission, chaired by veteran PHS official
and long-time pro-fluoridationist Frank E. Young, predictably concluded
that "no evidence" was found associating fluoride and cancer. On
bone fractures, the commission blandly stated that "further studies
are required." But no further studies or soul-searching were needed
for its conclusion: "The U.S. Public Health Service should continue
to support optimal fluoridation of drinking water." Presumably,
they did not conclude that "optimal" meant zero.
Despite the Young whitewash, doubts are piling up
even within the federal government. James Huff, a director of the
U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, concluded
in 1992 that animals in the government's study developed cancer,
especially bone cancer from being given fluoride and there
was nothing "equivocal" about his conclusion.
Various scientists for the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) have turned to anti-fluoridation, toxicologist William
Marcus's warning that fluoride causes not just cancer, but also
bone fractures, arthritis, and other disease. Marcus mentions, too,
that an unreleased study by the New Jersey Health Department (a
state where only 15 percent of the population is fluoridated) shows
that the bone cancer rate among young males is no less than six
times higher in fluoridated than in non-fluoridated areas.
Even coming into question is the long-sacred idea
that fluoridated water at least lowers cavities in children five
to nine. Various top pro-fluoridationists highly touted for their
expertise were suddenly and bitterly condemned when further study
led them to the conclusion that the dental benefits are really negligible.
New Zealand's most prominent pro-fluoridationist was the country's
top dental officer, Dr. John Colquhoun.
As chairman of the Fluoridation Promotion Committee,
Colquhoun decided to gather statistics to show doubters the great
merits of fluoridation. To his shock, he found that the percentage
of children free of dental decay was higher in the non-fluoridated
part than in the fluoridated part of New Zealand. The national health
department refused to allow Colquhoun to publish these findings,
and kicked him out as dental director. Similarly, a top pro-fluoridationist
in British Columbia, Canada, Richard G. Foulkes, concluded that
fluoridation is not only dangerous, but that it is not even effective
in reducing tooth decay. Foulkes was denounced by former colleagues
as a propagandist "promoting the quackery of anti-fluoridationists."
WHY THE FLUORIDATION DRIVE?
Since the case for compulsory fluoridation is so flimsy,
and the case against so overwhelming, the final step is to ask:
why? Why did the Public Health Service get involved in the first
place? How did this thing get started? Here we must keep our eye
on the pivotal role of Oscar R. Ewing, for Ewing was far more than
just a social democrat Fair Dealer.
Fluoride has long been recognized as one of the most
toxic elements found in the earth's crust. Fluorides are by-products
of many industrial processes, being emitted in the air and water,
and probably the major source of this by-product is the aluminum
industry. By the 1920s and 1930s, fluorine was increasingly being
subject to lawsuits and regulations. In particular, by 1938 the
important, relatively new aluminum industry was being placed on
a wartime footing. What to do if its major by-product is a dangerous
he time had come for damage control; even better,
to reverse the public image of this menacing substance. The Public
Health Service, remember was under the jurisdiction of the Treasury
Department, and treasury secretary all during the 1920s and until
1931 was none other than billionaire Andrew J. Mellon, founder and
head of the powerful Mellon interests, "Mr. Pittsburgh," and founder
and virtual ruler of the Aluminum Corporation of America (ALCOA),
the dominant firm in the aluminum industry.
In 1931, the PHS sent a dentist named H. Trendley
Dean to the West to study the effects of concentrations of naturally
fluoridated water on people's teeth. Dean found that towns high
in natural fluoride seemed to have fewer cavities. This news galvanized
various Mellon scientists into action. In particular, the Mellon
Institute, ALCOA's research lab in Pittsburgh, sponsored a study
in which biochemist Gerald J. Cox fluoridated some lab rats, decided
that cavities in those rats had been reduced and immediately concluded
that "the case (that fluoride reduces cavities) should be regarded
as proved." Instant science!
The following year, 1939, Cox, the ALCOA scientist
working for a company beset by fluoride damage claims, made the
first public proposal for mandatory fluoridation of water. Cox proceeded
to stump the country urging fluoridation. Meanwhile, other ALCOA-funded
scientists trumpeted the alleged safety of fluorides, in particular
the Kettering Laboratory of the University of Cincinnati.
During World War II, damage claims for fluoride emissions
piled up as expected, in proportion to the great expansion of aluminum
production during the war. But attention from these claims was diverted,
when, just before the end of the war, the PHS began to push hard
for compulsory fluoridation of water. Thus the drive for compulsory
fluoridation of water accomplished two goals in one shot: it transformed
the image of fluorine from a curse to a blessing that will strengthen
every kid's teeth, and it provided a steady and substantial monetary
demand for fluorides to dump annually into the nation's water.
One interesting footnote to this story is that whereas
fluorine in naturally fluoridated water comes in the form of calcium
fluoride, the substance dumped into every locality is instead sodium
fluoride. The Establishment defense that "fluoride is fluoride"
becomes unconvincing when we consider two points: (a) calcium is
notoriously good for bones and teeth, so the anti-cavity effect
in naturally fluoridated water might well be due to the calcium
and not the fluorine; and (b) sodium fluoride happens to be the
major by-product of the manufacture of aluminum.
Which brings us to Oscar R. Ewing. Ewing arrived in
Washington in 1946, shortly after the initial PHS push began, arriving
there as long-time counsel, now chief counsel, for ALCOA, making
what was then an astronomical legal fee of $750,000 a year (something
like $7,000,000 a year in present dollars). A year later, Ewing
took charge of the Federal Security Agency, which included the PHS,
and waged the successful national drive for water fluoridation.
After a few years, having succeeded in his campaign, Ewing stepped
down from public service, and returned to private life, including
his chief counselship of the Aluminum Corporation of America.
There is an instructive lesson in this little saga,
a lesson how and why the Welfare State came to America. It came
as an alliance of three major forces: ideological social democrats,
ambitious technocratic bureaucrats, and Big Businessmen seeking
privileges from the State. In the fluoridation saga, we might call
the whole process "ALCOA-socialism." The Welfare State redounds
to the welfare not of most of society but of these particular venal
and exploitative groups.