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Fluoridation carries too many risks

Two Views: Special election issue isn't about water, it's about your health


What do more than 200 physicians and Portland medical professionals, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Headquarters Scientists Union and the local leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Sierra Club have in common?

We and many other Portland organizations oppose adding risky fluoridation chemicals to our clean, safe drinking water. Portland has some of the best water in the world thanks to our unique Bull Run watershed. Portlanders have worked to protect Bull Run for more than a century.

The Columbia Group of the Sierra Club’s Oregon chapter voted to oppose fluoridation after thorough research, meeting with speakers on both sides of the issue and careful deliberation. We engaged in spirited discussions. We weighed potential benefits against potential risks.

We oppose adding fluoridation chemicals to our water for several main reasons:

• Fluorosilicic acid is a documented industrial byproduct of the fertilizer industry

The Water Bureau has said the chemical that would be used to fluoridate our water is fluorosilicic acid. It is not a mineral like calcium fluoride, which occurs naturally in some water supplies. Fluorosilicic acid is not even pharmaceutical-grade fluoride.

In fact, fluorosilicic acid is so strong that the city has said it also would have to add neutralizing compounds to our water so it does not corrode our pipes and increase lead levels.

Because fluorosilicic acid is a byproduct of industrial fertilizer manufacturing, even fluoridation supporters like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admit it may contain arsenic, lead and mercury. Fluoridation promoters argue that the toxin levels are small. However, it does not make sense to knowingly add any more arsenic or lead to our water when EPA has made it clear there is no safe level of these toxins.

• Questions about safety and health risks

From bone cancer and endocrine disruption to thyroid and kidney problems, fluoridation chemicals have been linked to myriad health risks. As quick as fluoride promoters are to dismiss studies that link fluoridation chemicals to harm, science clearly demonstrates valid reasons for concern.

Recent reports by the National Academy of Sciences and other top researchers have documented concerns over the effects of low concentration fluoride exposure, and have raised reasonable doubts about the safety of long-term fluoridation. Portlanders and our kids already are exposed to too many chemicals, and adding one more would be a step in the wrong direction.

• Concerns about negative effects on salmon

We also are concerned about the potential risks of dumping fluoridated sewage water into the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Fluoride can adversely affect salmon. The minimal research conducted on the subject shows it can affect salmon migration at levels that are below what we would add to the drinking water and what would likely be released into our rivers. Human health cannot be divorced from environmental health. Fluoridation chemicals simply pose too much risk.

• Better alternatives for kids’ teeth

The Sierra Club strongly supports increased access to dental care; this is a core responsibility of our society. Data finally released at the end of April, after media pressured the state with two Freedom of Information Act requests, shows that Multnomah County kids’ dental health has been improving — without fluoride.

That’s very encouraging, but we know we still need to do better. Most fluoridation supporters are sincere in their desire to see improvement. But adding fluoridation chemicals to everyone’s water is not the right solution for continued progress. Alternatives to fluoridation, such as increasing early prevention efforts and increasing access to dental care for all low-income kids, really work. That’s where we need to invest.

It is also important to note that no one has paid, or will ever pay, any Sierra Club member a single dime for taking our position. We are all volunteers. We took up our position as a public service. We are scientists, educators, health care workers, counselors and, above all, concerned Portland citizens who want the cleanest water possible for our families and aquatic life.

The Sierra Club has been protecting children’s health for more than 100 years by working to keep our air, soil and water clean. Please join us in voting “no” to fluoridation chemicals on May 21.

Portland citizens — young and old, black and white, poor and affluent — deserve better.

Antonia Giedwoyn is with the Sierra Club’s Oregon chapter Columbia Group.