George Glasser */Andreas Schuld**

Children’s Environmental Health Network: “The US has seen a worrisome increase in certain childhood diseases, and researchers are working hard to determine whether this increase is linked to environmental exposures. As noted, childhood asthma has increased by more than 40% since 1980, affecting more than 4.2 million children under the age of 18 nationwide. The incidence of two types of childhood cancers has risen significantly over the past 15 years: acute lymphocytic leukemia is up 10% and brain tumors are up more than 30%. Although there are no registries for learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders among children, there has been growing attention in recent years to an apparent increase in both.

“In 1997, President Clinton issued an Executive Order addressing protection of children from environmental health risks. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 both require consideration of infants and children in risk assessments used to determine acceptable levels of environmental contaminants in food and drinking water. In 1996, Administrator Browner issued a report entitled Environmental Health Threats to Children and set a Children’s Agenda for EPA, calling for consideration of children’s risks in all Agency actions and a greater emphasis on research to support children’s risk assessments.” (Children’s Vulnerability To Toxic Substances In The Environment Science to Achieve Results Program: 1999 Research Grants National Center for Environmental Research and Quality Assurance/ USEPA.)

Some progressive researchers are calling for recognition of children’s risks from exposure to environmental contaminants. However, not many researchers and toxicologists want to admit that they still predicate their research on 14th century dogma: “The dose alone makes the poison.” To these researchers, children are merely small adults; however, a child’s system is very different to that of an adult. A child’s system is continually developing. The ratio of child intake rate to child body size is greater than that for adults for some routes, including the skin.

EPA states:

  • Physiological differences influence the amount of chemical that is absorbed into the body. Children have a greater surface area to body weight ratio than adults which may lead to increased dermal absorption. Comparisons of absorption through the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract between children and adults are complex and could lead to either increased or decreased risk depending on the physicochemical properties of the toxic chemical.
  • There are several interconnected factors that may contribute to increased vulnerability for children, depending on the toxic substance under consideration and the age of the child. Children’s tissues, organs, and biological systems are still developing, with several stages of rapid growth and development occurring from infancy to adolescence. This rapid development and immaturity of body organs and systems predisposes children to potentially more severe consequences within certain age ranges and windows of vulnerability.

Another factor that can influence a child’s vulnerability is that circulatory flow rates are generally higher in children, which may increase a child’s susceptibility to toxic effects. A child is not an adult, but most toxicological data are based on occupational exposures for adults.

  • A main route of exposure to toxicants in municipal water for children is the skin. Studies done by H.S. Brown, Ph.D., D.R. Bishop, MPH, and C.A. Rowan, MSPH in the early 1980s showed that an average of 64% of the total dose of waterborne contaminants is absorbed through the skin.
  • Also, studies by Dr. Julian Andelman, Professor of Water Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, found less chemical exposure from drinking contaminated water than using it to wash the clothes or take a shower (American Journal of Public Health, May 1984).

Parents interviewed about their children’s bath times state that their young children may stay in a bath from forty-five minutes to two hours. The exposure to waterborne contaminants in tap water can range from chlorides to a multitude of chemicals depending on the water source and chemicals added to the water at the treatment plant. While most of the adverse effects from the chemicals are well documented, i.e., occupational exposures and/or oral exposures geared to adults, however, children’s dermal, inhalation or oral exposures are not considered.

Even when dermal exposures are taken into account, the fact that sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) found in most shampoos, soaps and bubble baths is not. Drug companies use SLS in medicines to enhance the absorption of medicines internally and through the skin.(5)

An experiment done with sodium fluoride and SLS showed that SLS increased the absorption of fluoride in the mouth by nine percent. However, no experiments have been done to determine the effect of SLS on absorption of contaminants from tap water.

Researchers say that ingestion, inhalation, and dermal absorption are similar, and all routes must be used to calculate the total risk when making policy decisions regarding the quality of the municipal water. However, with the exception of chlorine, these dermal and inhalation exposure factors are not taken into account with other water treatment chemicals .

EPA established the maximum contaminant levels for fluorides in the drinking water based on oral ingestion of treated tap water. Interestingly, the US Public Health Service established the optimal level for fluorides in the drinking water without ever having considered dermal or inhalation exposures or the potential of enhanced dermal absorption triggered by SLS in soaps.

Surprisingly, ingestion is not the most efficient way to deliver toxicants into the system.

Depending on whether a child has eaten or if there is residual food in the stomach, about 20-50% of the contaminants are metabolized. However, with dermal exposure and inhalation the contaminants are absorbed directly into the blood stream. Of the three modes of exposure, dermal exposures are the most efficient: virtually 100% of the contaminants are absorbed into the system.

One EPA scientist said, “For instance, a shower cubicle can be considered an ‘exposure chamber’. Exposure to volatile contaminants absorbed via the lung would be about double the same amount from drinking water. In the bath, underarms (axilla), scrotal and vaginal areas as well as the groin absorb far greater amounts than in the normal un-washed forearm test.”

The rate of dermal absorption varies for various chemicals depending on the different parts of the body exposed to the chemical; as an example, the precentages for absorption of parathion are as follows, and using soaps contaning SLS, the average up-take rate could be exceeded by 9.0%:

  • scalp————— 32%
  • ear canal———- 46%
  • forehead———- 36%
  • forearm————- 9%
  • palm of hand—– 12%
  • scrotum———- 100%
  • plant of foot —–13%

Other studies suggest that toxicants such as fluorides can be stored in the skin and released over a period of time. (1)

With the recommendations of daily intake of fluorides for children, the most significant route of exposure was ignored: DERMAL EXPOSURES.

Researchers on both sides of the drinking water fluoridation issue have failed to account for inhalation and dermal exposures to fluorides. This is the most significant flaw in fluoride research which renders present dosage conclusions based solely on ingestion invalid.

Possibly the most troubling aspect is that most popular fluoridation agent is fluorosilicic acid derived from phosphate fertilizer production. While the US Public health Service and American Dental Association say the addition of the pollution scrubber liquor is the most significant health measure of our time, the USEPA office of Air and Radiation states, unequivocally about the same product:

  • 1996, USEPA Office of Air and Radiation, 40 CFR Part 63 [IL-64-2-5807; FRL-5656-4] RIN 2060-AE40 and 2060-AE44: SUMMARY: Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) emitted by the facilities covered by this proposed rule include hydrogen fluoride (HF); arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, manganese, mercury, and nickel (HAP metals); and methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) emissions. Human exposure to the HAP constituents in these emissions may be associated with adverse carcinogenic, respiratory, nervous system, dermal, developmental, and/or reproductive health effects.”

On 10 May 1999, US Rep. Ken Calvert, US House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, wrote to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The response, dated 23 June 1999, was made by J. Charles Fox, USEPA Assistant Administrator, at EPA Headquarters. In answer to Question Two: “What chronic toxicity test data are there on sodium fluorosilicate? On hydrofluorosilicic acid. . . ? ” Fox wrote: “In collecting the data for the fact sheet EPA was not able to identify chronic studies for these chemicals.”

Aside from the much debated fluoride issue, there is a component of the product that might be as bioactive as fluorine. It does not appear on Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) or in any quality control specification sheets (contaminant analyses). However, the component is part and parcel of the empirical formula and the chemical name, Silicon/Silica. All US government agencies are aware of this inherent, possibly carcinogenic, component of fluorosilicates, but refuse to acknowledge it: Silica.

The molecular silica is also absorbed through the skin. Recent studies strongly suggest that exposure to silicates may be a factor in the development of primary brain tumors and Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimer’s like dementia).(1) (2) (3) (4) (A) (B)

The levels of silica in the fluorosilicates exceeds the US Federal Hazardous Communication Standard for warning labels, certifying laboratories or the manufacturers do not report the silica levels. Even after the levels of silica were verified and reported to the US OSHA, the occupational safety agency never took action.

The health threat from using fluorosilicates to fluoridate drinking water goes beyond bathing and drinking the treated water. The substances in the fluorosilicates do not magically vanish as USEPA would have people believe. All the captured pollution is retained in the average home from washing clothes and household items, evaporation from clothes dryers and dishwashers, and using the water for general household cleaning chores. In essence, water fluoridated with the pollution scrubber liquor from phosphate fertilizer production is a vehicle to carry all the hazardous air pollutants directly into your home.

For young children, secondary contamination from the fluoridated water is significant and has never been investigated by USPEA or the US Public Health Service although both agencies are aware that pollution scrubber liquor is being used to fluoridate municipal water supplies. In fact, the EPA acknowledges potential household risks for exposure from water contaminated with low levels of pesticides and other contaminants:

  • Children’s daily activities, proximity to floors, carpets, lawns, and soils, the frequency and duration of hand to mouth behaviors, and many other factors combine to form a life environment that varies with age and from child to child. Studies suggest, for example, that children’s normal activities may expose them to higher levels of pesticides applied in and around the home. Children also have greater average daily food consumption per unit body weight than do adults, and children differ in the specific foods eaten and in the relative proportions of various foods.

In exploring the factors that affect health risk from exposure to toxic chemicals, it must be remembered that children are a unique sub-population. Depending on the circumstances, children may be more or less susceptible to the toxic effects of these chemicals than are adults. Risks to children may differ qualitatively or quantitatively from those to adults because of differences in their immature physiology, metabolic processes, respiratory rates, and differing levels of exposure. Nutritional status, disease, and genetic variation can affect many of these processes, increasing or decreasing the risk from exposure to toxic substances.

The Organization Physicians for Social Responsibility states:

  • Our children are especially at risk. Their growing bodies are more vulnerable to harm from hazards in the environment. Small amounts of air or water pollution that may have little or no impact on a healthy adult, can make children, especially newborns, seriously ill. Children’s longer lives also make them more vulnerable to slow-acting hazards, like pesticides and dioxins.

World Health Organization: Inhalation and dermal absorption/Water contaminants

  • The contribution of drinking-water to daily exposure includes direct ingestion as well as some indirect routes, such as inhalation of volatile substances and dermal contact during bathing or showering.

    In most cases, the data were insufficient to permit reliable estimates of exposure by inhalation and dermal absorption of contaminants present in drinking-water. It was not possible, therefore, to address intake from these routes specifically in the derivation of the guideline values. However, that portion of the total tolerable daily intake (TDI) allocated to drinking-water is generally sufficient to allow for these additional routes of intake (see section 4.1). When there is concern that potential inhalation of volatile compounds and dermal exposure from various indoor water uses (such as showering) are not adequately addressed, authorities could adjust the guideline value.

The lack of information regarding the absorption by skin is particularly disturbing as recent research has uncovered hundreds of papers in the European literature regarding the use of fluorides as effective anti-thyroid medication, including bath therapy. Between 1932 and 1962 Gorlitzer von Mundy cured over 650 patients suffering from hyperthyroidism (over-functioning thyroid gland) effectively with baths containing hydrogen fluoride (HF). After first conductiong over 1500 trials on mice and tadpoles, he prescribed 20-minute full baths containing 30 ccm of concentrated HF per 200 liters of water. Temperature was mostly 36º Celsius.It took on average 15 baths to completely cure the patients, who also gained 20 kg of weight as a result. He warned that such treatment should only be applied to hyperthyroid patients, for to apply such measures to euthyroid (normal) people would surely lead to hypothyroidism.

Currently, more researchers are saying that research into extend further than testing on a chemical by chemical basis.

  • “Skin has been widely recognized as a primary entry route and direct target for chemicals and chemical mixtures. Dermal contact with mixtures is the real-world exposure scenario; however, laboratory research is often done with single chemicals, assuming negligible interactions among components of a mixture.” (7)

Office of Drinking Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1989:

  • “The EPA often has grappled with the issues surrounding the toxicity of chemical mixtures, including radioactive contaminants, nitrate/nitrite, and trihalomethanes (THMs). In evaluating the toxicity of chemical mixtures, the EPA’s immediate concern is whether the individual HA values and MCLGs are protecting public health when multiple contaminants are present in drinking water. Potential toxic interactions between drinking water contaminants are difficult to predict because experimental studies are generally performed only at high doses relative to environmental levels.” (8)

The municipal water your child drinks, bathes and plays in is a complex chemical mixture of inherent minerals, contaminants and chemical additives. With some source water, chemicals are added to clarify the water, remove solid particulates, disinfect, and often when fluoride compounds are added, polymers are added to inhibit corrosion of pipes. The toxicity of tap water depends on the quality of the source water and the water treatment chemicals added. With regards to the quality of water treatment chemicals, the USEPA States:

  • “In the United States, there are no Federal safety standards which are applicable to additives, including those for use in fluoridating drinking water.” (USEPA Fluoride: Regulatory Fact Sheet. 1997).

Although the reality of children’s vulnerability to exposures to environmental toxicants has been acknowledged, little is happening. Children don’t vote and the parents are kept ignorant by the government, scientists and the media . It seems that only a few voices express concern, but those voices are virtually smothered by the sound of money changing hands.

* Investigative Writer

** Head of Parents of Fluoride Poisoned Children


  1. Griffin P, Payne M, Mason H, Freedlander E, Curran AD, Cocker J; The in vitro percutaneous penetration of chlorpyrifos , Hum Exp Toxicol 2000 Feb;19(2):104-7,Health and Safety Laboratory, Sheffield, UK
  2. Forbes WF; Agwani N, J, A suggested mechanism for aluminum biotoxicity; Theor Biol; VOL 171, ISS 2, 1994, P207-14.
  3. Cerebrospinal fluid trace element content in dementia: clinical, radiologic, and pathologic correlations; Hershey CO, Hershey LA, Varnes A, Vibhakar SD, Lavin P, Strain WH; Neurology 1983 Oct;33(10):1350-3
  4. Jacqmin-Gadda H, Commenges D, Letenneur L, Dartigues JF; Silica and aluminum in drinking water and cognitive impairment in the elderly ; Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale U330, Bordeaux, France. Epidemiology 1996 May;7(3):281-5.
  5. Hadfield MG, Adera T, Sm ith B, Fortner-Burton CA, Gibb RD, Mumaw V; Human brain tumors and exposure to metal and non-metal elements: case-control study; J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol 1998;17(1):1-9; Department of Pathology, Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond 23298, USA.
  6. Journal of Dental Research 1990, Vol. 69, pg 827, Abstracts of Posters; (8) Plasma F Levels Following Intake of NaF in Combination with Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. P.Barkvoll (University of Oslo, Norway.) Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is one of the most widely used detergents in toothpastes, and it is known that it increases the permeability of rat oral muscosa. The aim of the present study was to ininvestigate the plasma F- concentrations in humans after intake of NaF with and without addition of SLS. In the fires experiment, five subjects received an aqueous solution of 3 mg F- as NaF in a 30-mL solution immediately followed by intake of 30 mL of distilled water. In the second experiment, the subjects received an aqueous solution of 3 mg F- as described above, followed by an aqueous solution of 30 mg SLS dissolved in 30 mL of distilled water. All the solutions were freshly prepared. Capillary blood samples were collected and the relative fluoride concentration in plasma determined. Sampling was performed before and 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 5, and 6.5 hours after the administration. All the subjects had a higher relative fluoride concentration in blood plasma after intake of fluoride in combination with SLS than of fluoride alone (p<0.05). T he mean increase was nearly 9%. this effect by SLS may be a point to be considered when absorption of fluoride from swallowed toothpaste is evaluated.
  8. Vanderslice RR, Orme J, Ohanian EV, Sonich-Mullin C; Problems in assessing the risks of mixtures of contaminants in drinking water, Toxicol Ind Health 1989 Oct;5(5):747-55

George Glasser
is an investigative writer on environmental issues, with a special interest in Pollution. He currently lives in Florida.

Andreas Schuld,
Head of Parents of Fluoride Poisoned Children, is based in Vancouver.

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