A local resident is set to challenge the decision to fluoridate Southampton’s tap water in the High Court early next year. The legal challenge is based on the Southern Strategic Health Authority’s (SHA) decision to ignore the results of a statutory public consultation, despite 72% of the consulted locals saying they were against fluoridation. The case is set to be a landmark judgement, potentially deciding the future of government plans to fluoridate tap water across the country.
Locals are angry at what they perceive to be an encroachment on their civil liberties. By adding fluoride to the tap water, the government takes away people’s right to choose what medication does and does not enter their bodies. There is no doubt that it represents a dangerous precedent. Particularly considering the outcome of the consultation, fluoridating the water in Southampton would represent the state forcing upon its citizens a drug they have said they do not want.
Many scientists around the world dispute government claims that fluoride in tap water combats tooth decay. Dr Arvid Carlsson, a former winner of the Nobel laureate for medicine, sent a letter to the SHA during the public consultation in which he described fluoridation as ‘an obsolete practice.’
He disputed the dental benefits, pointing to over 50 studies showing that fluoride delays the eruption (ERROSION? CHECK) of a child’s teeth for roughly one year. Because of this, if tested at age five, children living in fluoridated areas have had their teeth for a year less than those in non-fluoridated areas. According to the British Medical Journal, once this is taken into account, there is no evidence of a dental benefit from fluoridation. Indeed, tooth decay rates in older children and adults are almost identical, regardless of the area they live in.
Doctor Hardy Limeback, Head of Preventative Dentistry at the University of Toronto, argues that fluoride has a damaging effect on the teeth. This is particularly true in babies and young children for whom the dosage is far too high, another problem with using tap water as a way of administering drugs. A baby drinking fluoridated tap water may suffer dental fluorosis, a disease which can cause black and brown stains and pitting and cracking of the teeth. This condition requires private treatment, which may result in an awkward social poblem where children from poorer backgrounds suffer from worse dental health.
Yet dental fluorosis is far from the only negative health impact of fluoride. A study by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services discovered a six times increase in osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in young men drinking fluoridated water. This malignant and often deadly form of cancer typically strikes between the ages of 18-23. This link has been repeatedly found in other studies. In addition to this more studies have shown fluoride causes brittle bones, damages the thyroid and even lowers IQ.
While these studies demonstrate links and do not conclusively prove that fluoride, at the concentration it is found in tap water (1 part per million (ppm)), is bad for health, they demonstrate room for enough doubt to worry those who drink it. Under European Community law, before something is added to tap water safety must be proven at 100 ppm. At this level, fluoride is too dangerous to even test on humans.
So why is it being added to our drinking water?
The Wessex Scene posed this question to John Spottiswoode, president of the campaigning group Hampshire Against Fluoridation, and in his response, an interesting political story emerged. The main backer of fluoridation, he claims, is the phosphate industry. Phosphate is used as a chemical fertiliser, and fluoride is a waste product generated in its creation. As it is officially regarded as toxic waste, disposal is incredibly expensive. So rather than take on this expense, the leaders of the phosphate industry decided to try to find a way to sell it.
Fluoride research in this country, Spottiswoode told me, is biased. It is funded only by the government, the phosphate industry and the dental industry, and is aimed at creating what he called ‘pro-fluoride cheerleaders.’ It is only when you look overseas, particularly to countries where fluoride is not added to the tap water, that you find research, as described above, that raises serious questions over the impact it can have on health.
In 2004, when the government was debating whether or not to give local Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) the power to fluoridate tap water, the phosphate industry mounted a huge lobby to persuade them to do it. Initially, the proposed legislation insisted that fluoridation go ahead only with public consent. But, bowing to the pressure of the lobby, this was amended. The legislation demanded that a public consultation take place, but gave the PCTs the power to override it.
Fluoridating tap water is now a key part of government policy. Health authorities come under political pressure to ensure that it happens in the area they are responsible for. According to Spottiswoode, never was this more evident than during the public consultation in Southampton. He claims it was ‘nothing more than a persuasive exercise to convince people of the benefits of fluoride.’ The anti-fluoride group were given 10 minutes to make their case. A professor supporting it then spoke for an hour.
Despite this, and despite an advertising campaign costing millions, the people of Southampton when consulted delivered a conclusive no. Perhaps they were worried about safety, perhaps they did not like the idea of medicine in tap water. Perhaps they simply did not like being bullied by the government. But, despite this, the SHA went ahead with fluoridation anyway, and this is what will be challenged in the High Court early next year. For the sake of our health, and our political rights, we can only hope they win.