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Selwyn Johnston



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Fluoride: Industry's Toxic Coup

For nearly 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 in children. 

Manufacturers 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. 

For decades, 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.

While 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.

If this 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, aluminium, 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 power-plants; and uranium processing.

As for water, the leading industrial fluoride polluters are the producers and processors of glass, pesticides and fertilizers, steel and aluminium, chemicals and metals - copper and brass, titanium, superalloys, and refractory metals for military use.

Industry 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.

Primal Poison

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 early 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.

In 1933, 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.

It was 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.

Liability into Asset

During the 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 Aluminium 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 discoloured and eroded, but he also reported that they appeared to have fewer cavities than average.

The University 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.

In 1939, 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 proved."

In 1939, 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 damage claims.

Undoubtedly, 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 was dangerous?

If fluoride 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.

ALCOA Foils Accountability

The name of the company with the biggest stake in fluoride's safety was ALCOA - whose name is stamped all over the early history of water fluoridation.

By 1938, the aluminium 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 aluminium for fighters and bombers. And fluoride was the aluminium industry's most devastating pollutant.

Following the war, hundreds of fluoride damage suits were filed around the country against producers of aluminium, iron and steel, phosphates, chemicals, and other major polluters.

Most 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 aluminium plant.

ALCOA and six other metals and chemical companies joined with Reynolds as "friends of the court" to get the decision reversed. Finally, in a time-honoured corporate solution, Reynolds mooted the case by buying the Martins' ranch for a hefty price.

"Friends" of Children

The post-war 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 behind it.

In that 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.

In 1946, despite the fact that the official 15-year experiment in Michigan had barely begun, six more US cities were allowed to fluoridate their water.

In 1947, 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 half over.

The Father of All Spin Doctors

The government's 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.

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.

In his 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.... our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never been heard of...."

Almost overnight, under Bernays' mass mind-moulding, 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,

The prospect of the government mass-medicating the water supplies with a well-known rat poison to prevent a non-lethal disease flipped the switches of sceptics across the country. But, under Bernays' spell, fluoride's opponents were permanently engraved on the public mind as crackpots and right-wing loonies.


RETURN TO: FLUORIDE - The Greatest Fraud of the Twentieth Century


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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870