Industry's Toxic Coup
by Joel Griffith
50 years, the US government and media have been telling the public
that fluoride compounds (generally referred to simply as "fluoride")
are safe and beneficial chemicals that reduce cavities - especially
add it to toothpaste, municipalities put it in the public's drinking
water. But fluoride has another side that the government never
mentions. It is a toxic industrial pollutant.
US industry has rained heavy doses of waste fluoride on people.
By the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) last estimate,
at least 155,000 tons a year are released into the air by US industrial
plants. Emissions into lakes, rivers and oceans have been estimated
to be as high as 500,000 tons a year.
people living near or working in heavy fluoride-emitting industrial
plants receive the highest doses, the general population has not
been spared. Because fluoride compounds are not biodegradable,
they gradually accumulate in the environment, in the food chain,
and in people's bones and teeth.
general increase in fluoride dose were proved harmful to humans,
the impact on industry would be major. The nation's air is contaminated
by fluoride emissions from the production of iron, steel, aluminum,
copper, lead and zinc; phosphates (essential for the manufacture
of all agricultural fertilizers); plastics; gasoline; brick, cement,
glass, ceramics, and the multitudinous other products made from
clay; coal-burning electrical powerplants; and uranium processing.
water, the leading industrial fluoride polluters are the producers
and processors of glass, pesticides and fertilizers, steel and
aluminum, chemicals and metals - copper and brass, titanium, superalloys,
and refractory metals for military use.
and government have long had a powerful motive for claiming that
fluoride is safe. But maintaining this position has not been easy
since fluoride is one of the most toxic substances known. "Airborne
fluorides," reports the US Department of Agriculture, "have caused
more worldwide damage to domestic animals than any other air pollutant."
Evidence that industrial fluoride has been killing and crippling
human beings has existed at least since the 1930s.
Of the highly
toxic elements that are naturally present throughout the earth's
crust - such as arsenic, mercury and lead - fluoride is by far
the most abundant. Normally, only minute amounts of these elements
are found on the earth's surface, but industry mines vast tonnages
- none in greater quantity than fluorine, which is most often
found in the form of calcium fluoride.
as 1850, fluoride emissions from the iron and copper industries
poisoned crops, livestock, and people. By the turn of the century,
lawsuits and burdensome regulations threatened the existence of
these industries in Germany and England.
when the world's first major air pollution disaster struck Belgium's
Meuse Valley. Several thousand people became violently ill and
60 died. Kaj Roholm, the world's leading authority on fluoride
hazards, placed the blame on fluoride.
abundantly clear to both industry and government that US industrial
expansion would necessitate releasing millions of tons of waste
fluoride into the environment. It was equally clear that US industrial
expansion would be accompanied by complaints and lawsuits over
fluoride damage on an unprecedented scale.
industrial explosion of the 1920s, the US Public Health Service
(PHS) was under the jurisdiction of Treasury Secretary Andrew
W. Mellon, a founder and major stockholder of the Aluminum Company
of America (Alcoa). In 1931, a PHS dentist named H. Trendley Dean
was dispatched to remote towns in the West where drinking-water
wells contained high concentrations of natural fluoride. His mission:
to determine how much fluoride people could tolerate without sustaining
obvious damage to their teeth. Dean found that teeth in these
high-fluoride towns were often discolored and eroded, but he also
reported that they appeared to have fewer cavities than average.
of Cincinnati's Kettering Laboratory, funded largely by top fluoride-emitters
such as Alcoa, quickly dominated fluoride safety research. A book
by Kettering scientist (and Reynolds Metals consultant) E. J.
Largent, was admittedly written in part to "aid industry in lawsuits
arising from fluoride damage." Nonetheless, the book became a
basic international reference work.
ALCOA-funded scientist Gerald J. Cox was one of the first to note
that "The present trend toward complete removal of fluoride from
water and food may need some reversal." Cox also proposed that
this "apparently worthless by-product" might reduce cavities in
children. Cox fluoridated lab rats, concluded that fluoride reduced
cavities and declared flatly: "The case should be regarded as
the first public proposal that the US should fluoridate its water
supplies was made, not by a doctor, or dentist, but by Cox, an
industry scientist working for a company threatened by fluoride
most proponents were sincere in their belief that the procedure
was safe and beneficial. Nonetheless, their unquestioning endorsement
of fluoridation made possible a master public relations stroke.
If the leaders of dentistry, medicine, and public health supported
pouring fluoride into the public's drinking water - proclaiming
to the nation that there was a "wide margin of safety" - how were
they going to turn around later and say industry's fluoride pollution
could be introduced as a health-enhancing substance that should
be added to the environment for the children's sake, those opposing
it would look like quacks and lunatics.
of the company with the biggest stake in fluoride's safety was
ALCOA - whose name is stamped all over the early history of water
the aluminum industry (which then consisted solely of ALCOA) was
placed on a wartime schedule. During World War II, industry's
fluoride pollution increased sharply because of stepped-up production
of ALCOA aluminum for fighters and bombers. And fluoride was the
aluminum industry's most devastating pollutant.
the war, hundreds of fluoride damage suits were filed around the
country against producers of aluminum, iron and steel, phosphates,
chemicals, and other major polluters.
of the lawsuits, particularly those claiming damage to human health,
were settled out of court, thus avoiding legal precedents. In
a rare exception, a federal court found in Paul M. and Verla Martin
v. Reynolds Metals (1955) that an Oregon couple had sustained
"serious injury to their livers, kidneys and digestive functions"
from eating "farm produce contaminated by [fluoride] fumes" from
a nearby Reynolds aluminum plant.
and six other metals and chemical companies joined with Reynolds
as "friends of the court" to get the decision reversed. Finally,
in a time-honored corporate solution, Reynolds mooted the case
by buying the Martins' ranch for a hefty price.
casualties of industrial fluoride pollution were many - from forests
to livestock to farmers to smog-stricken urban residents - but
national attention had been diverted by fluoride's heavily publicized
new image. In 1945, shortly before the war's end, water fluoridation
abruptly emerged with the full force of the federal government
year, two Michigan cities were selected for an official "15-year"
comparison study to determine if fluoride could safely reduce
cavities in children, and fluoride was pumped into the drinking
water of Grand Rapids.
despite the fact that the official 15-year experiment in Michigan
had barely begun, six more US cities were allowed to fluoridate
Oscar R. Ewing, a long-time ALCOA lawyer, was appointed head of
the Federal Security Agency, a position that placed him in charge
of the Public Health Service. Under Ewing, a national water fluoridation
campaign rapidly materialized, spearheaded by the PHS. Over the
next three years, 87 additional cities were fluoridated. The two-city
Michigan experiment (the only scientifically objective test of
fluoridation's safety and benefits) was abandoned before it was
of All Spin Doctors
official reason for this unscientific haste was "popular demand."
This enthusiasm was not really surprising, considering Oscar Ewing's
public relations strategist for the water fluoridation campaign
was none other than Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward L. Bernays.
also known as the "father of public relations," pioneered the
application of his uncle's theories to advertising and government
propaganda. The government's fluoridation campaign was one of
his most enduring successes.
1928 book, Propaganda, Bernays expounded on "the mechanism" that
controls the public mind. "Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism
of society," Bernays wrote, "constitute an invisible government
which is the true ruling power of our country.... [O]ur minds
are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by
men we have never heard of...."
overnight, under Bernays' mass mind-molding, the popular image
of fluoride - which at the time was being widely sold as rat and
bug poison - became that of a beneficial provider of gleaming
smiles, absolutely safe, and good for children,
of the government mass-medicating the water supplies with a well-known
rat poison to prevent a non-lethal disease flipped the switches
of skeptics across the country. But, under Bernays' spell, fluoride's
opponents were permanently engraved on the public mind as crackpots
and right-wing loonies.
the PHS officially endorsed fluoridation. Since then, two-thirds
of the nation's reservoirs have been fluoridated and about 143,000
tons of fluoride are pumped in yearly to keep them that way.
companies forced to reduce their fluoride emission can even recoup
some of the expense by selling the waste to cities for water fluoridation.
the newly formed EPA surveyed atmospheric polluters and reported:
"The fluorides currently emitted [by industry] may damage economic
crops, farm animals, and construction [i.e. buildings, statuary
and glass]...." Nonetheless, the report concluded that "the potential
to cause fluoride effects in man is negligible."
EPA report confirmed that, "Fluoride emissions do have adverse
effects on livestock and vegetation" but insisted that "fluoride
emissions from primary aluminum plants have no significant effect
on human health. " In other words, the stuff withers plants, cripples
cows, and even eats holes in stone, but it doesn't hurt people.
Nature ever surprises.
new scientific evidence threatens fluoride's protected pollutant
status, the government immediately appoints a commission - typically
composed of veteran fluoride defenders and no opponents. Usually,
these commissions dismiss the new evidence and reaffirm the status
however, a PHS panel of "world-class experts" reviewed the safety
data on fluoride in drinking water and was surprised to discover
that much of the vaunted evidence of fluoride's safety barely
existed. The panel recommended caution, especially in regard to
fluoride exposure for children.
Surgeon General Everett Koop's office released the official report
a month later, the panel's most important conclusions and recommendations
had been deleted, apparently without consulting its members.
that low doses of fluoride might be harmful was thrown out. In
its place, the government substituted this blanket statement:
"There exists no directly applicable scientific documentation
of adverse medical effects at levels of fluoride below 8 ppm [parts
final draft had firmly recommended that "the fluoride content
of drinking water should be no greater than 1.4-2.4 ppm for children
up to and including age 9 because of a lack of information regarding
fluoride effect on the skeleton in children (to age 9), and potential
cardiotoxic effects [heart damage]...."
one exchange from the transcript of the panel's meeting:
"You would have to have rocks in your head, in my opinion, to
allow your child much more than 2 ppm."
"I think we all agree on that."
basing its action on the Surgeon General's altered report, the
EPA raised the amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water from
2 to 4 ppm for children and everybody else.
eight different epidemiological studies suggested that water fluoridation
may have increased the rate of bone fractures in females and males
of all ages across the US. A 1992 study in the Journal of the
American Medical Association (JAMA) found that "low levels of
fluoride may increase the risk of hip fracture in the elderly."
1957, the bone fracture rate among male children and adolescents
has increased sharply in the US according to the National Center
for Health Statistics. The National Research Council (NCI) reports
that the US hip fracture rate is now the highest in the world.
"Clearly," JAMA editorialized in 1991, "it is now appropriate
to revisit the issue of water fluoridation."
that fluoride is a carcinogen has cropped up since at least the
1940s. A 1956 federal study found nearly twice as many bone defects
(of a type considered possibly pre-malignant) among young males
in the fluoridated city of Newburgh, New York.
congressional hearings revealed that the government had never
cancer-tested fluoride. The NCI was ordered to begin an investigation.
years later, in 1989, the study was finally completed. It found
"equivocal evidence" that fluoride caused bone cancer in male
rats. The NCI found that nationwide evidence "of a rising rate
of bone and joint cancer of all ages combined, due mainly to trends
under the age of 20, was seen in the 'fluoridated' counties but
not in the 'non-fluoridated' counties."
commission, chaired by venerable fluoridation proponent and PHS
official Frank E. Young, was impaneled to respond to the NCI's
alarming findings. The commission concluded that it could find
"no evidence establishing an association between fluoride and
cancer in humans." As for the evidence on bone fractures, the
commission merely stated, "further studies are required."
an EPA senior science adviser and toxicologist maintains that
"fluoride is a carcinogen by any standard we use. I believe EPA
should act immediately to protect the public, not just on the
cancer data, but on the evidence of bone fractures, arthritis,
mutagenicity and other effects." Marcus adds that a still-unreleased
study by the New Jersey State Health Department has found that
the bone cancer rate is six times higher among young males in
level of fluoride the government allows the public is based on
scientifically fraudulent information and altered reports," charges
Robert Carton, an EPA environmental scientist. "People can be
harmed simply by drinking water," Carton warns.
fluoridation reduce cavities in children? Over the years, many
health professionals - especially abroad - have decided the beneficial
effects of fluoride are mostly hokum; but open debate has been
stifled if not strangled.
the early 1980s, New Zealand's most prominent fluoridation advocate
was John Colquhoun, the country's chief dental officer. He styled
himself an "ardent fluoridationist" until the day he tried to
gather statistics to bolster the claim that fluoride was a boon
to dental health.
that... the percentage of children who were free of dental decay
was higher in the unfluoridated part of most health districts
in New Zealand." Colquhoun reported. The national health department
refused to allow Colquhoun to publish his findings and he was
encouraged to resign.
Colquhoun issued a warning that "the harmful effects of water
fluoridation are more real than is generally admitted while the
claimed dental benefit is negligible."
with permission from Covert Action Quarterly (Fall, 1992), 1500
Massachusetts Avenue No. 732, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 331-9763,
firstname.lastname@example.org. Annual subscriptions:
is a medical writer who lives in New York City.