Like food in the supermarket, tap water is a highly processed consumer product. Its natural ingredients are usually altered to meet the tastes and needs of consumers, and a variety of additives are introduced to preserve it and enhance its appearance, odor, and taste.
One item of tap water’s makeup is added ostensibly for the same purpose that vitamin D is added to milk: to prevent a common health problem. It is called fluoride, and it has been a source of controversy since water suppliers started adding it to their product in the late 1950s. As you will see, all forms of fluoride are not created equal. And even though there has never been any compelling evidence to show that putting fluoride in water helps prevent tooth decay, it is a widely conducted practice… for reasons you will soon come to understand.
The following article casts light on one of the many controversial aspects of fluoridation.
The author, George C. Glasser, is a Florida-based writer whose work has appeared in Newlife, Whole Life Times, the Sarasota ECO Report and the Tampa Tribune.
Fluoride and the Phosphate Connection
By George C. Glasser
Cities all over the US purchase hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh pollution concentrate from Florida — fluorosilicic acid (H2SiF6) — to fluoridate water.
Fluorosilicic acid is composed of tetrafluorosiliciate gas and other species of fluorine gases captured in pollution scrubbers and concentrated into a 23% solution during wet process phosphate fertilizer manufacture. Generally, the acid is stored in outdoor cooling ponds before being shipped to US cities to artificially fluoridate drinking water.
Fluoridating drinking water with recovered pollution is a cost-effective means of disposing of toxic waste. The fluorosilicic acid would otherwise be classified as a hazardous toxic waste on the Superfund Priorities List of toxic substances that pose the most significant risk to human health and the greatest potential liability for manufacturers.
Phosphate fertilizer suppliers have more than $10 billion invested in production and mining facilities in Florida. Phosphate fertilizer production accounts for $800 million in wages per year. Florida’s mines produce 30% of the world supply and 75% of the US supply of phosphate fertilizers. Much of the country’s supply of fluoro-silicic acid for water fluoridation is also produced in Florida.
Phosphate fertilizer manufacturing and mining are not environment friendly operations. Fluorides and radionuclides are the primary toxic pollutants from the manufacture of phosphate fertilizer in Central Florida. People living near the fertilizer plants and mines, experience lung cancer and leukemia rates that are double the state average. Much of West Central Florida has become a toxic waste dump for phosphate fertilizer manufacturers. Federal and state pollution regulations have been modified to accommodate phosphate fertilizer production and use: These regulations have included using recovered pollution for water fluoridation.
Radium wastes from filtration systems at phosphate fertilizer facilities are among the most radioactive types of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) wastes. The radium wastes are so concentrated, they cannot be disposed of at the one US landfill licensed to accept NORM wastes, so manufacturers dump the radioactive wastes in acidic ponds atop 200-foot-high gypsum stacks. The federal government has no rules for its disposal.
During the late 1960s, fluorine emissions were damaging crops, killing fish and causing crippling skeletal fluorosis in livestock. The EPA became concerned and enforced regulations requiring manufacturers to install pollution scrubbers. At that time, the facilities were dumping the concentrated pollution directly into waterways leading into Tampa Bay.
A Phosphate Worse than Death
In the late 1960s, EPA chemist Ervin Bellack worked out the ideal solution to a monumental pollution problem. Because recovered phosphate fertilizer manufacturing waste contains about 19% fluorine, Bellack concluded that the concentrated “scrubber liquor” could be a perfect water fluoridation agent. It was a liquid and easily soluble in water, unlike sodium fluoride – a waste product from aluminum manufacturing. It was also inexpensive.
Fate also intervened. The aluminum industry, which previously supplied sodium fluoride for water fluoridation, was facing a shortage of fluorspar used in smelting aluminum. Consequently, there was a shortage of sodium fluoride to fluoridate drinking water.
For the phosphate fertilizer industry, the shortage of sodium fluoride was the key to turning red ink into black and an environmental liability into a perceived asset. With the help of the EPA, fluorosilicic acid was transformed from a concentrated toxic waste and a liability into a “proven cavity fighter.”
The EPA and the US Public Health Service waived all testing procedures and — with the help of the American Dental Association (ADA) — encouraged cities to add the radioactive concentrate into America’s drinking water as an “improved” form of fluoride.
The product is not “fluorine” or “fluoride” as proponents state: it is a pollution concentrate. Fluorine is only one captured pollutant comprising about 19% of the total product.
By 1983, the official EPA policy was expressed by EPA Office of Water Deputy Administrator Rebecca Hanmer as follows: “In regard to the use of fluosilicic (fluorosilicic) acid as a source of fluoride for fluoridation, this agency regards such use as an ideal environmental solution to a long-standing problem. By recovering by-product fluosilicic acid from fertilizer manufacturing, water and air pollution are minimized, and water utilities have a low-cost source of fluoride available to them.”
A Hot New Property
In promoting the use of the pollution concentrate as a fluoridation agent, the ADA, Federal agencies and manufacturers failed to mention that it was radioactive. Whenever uranium is found in nature as a component of a mineral, a host of other radionuclides are always found in the mineral in various stages of decay. Uranium and all of its decay-rate products are found in phosphate rock, fluorosilicic acid and phosphate fertilizer.
During wet-process manufacturing, trace amounts of radium and uranium are captured in the pollution scrubber. This process was the subject of an article by H.F. Denzinger, H. J. König and G.E. Krüger in the fertilizer industry journal, Phosphorus & Potassium (No. 103, Sept./Oct. 1979) discussed how radionuclides are carried into the fluorosilicic acid.
While the uranium and radium in fluorosilicic acid are known carcinogens, two decay products of uranium are even more carcinogenic: radon-222 and polonium-210.
During the acidulation process that creates phosphoric acid, radon gas contained in the phosphate pebble can be released in greater proportions than other decay-rate products (radionuclides) and carried over into the fluorosilicic acid. Polonium may also be captured in greater quantities during scrubbing operations because, like radon, it can readily combine with fluoride.
In written communications to the author, EPA Office of Drinking Water official Joseph A. Cotruvo and Public Health Service fluoridation engineer Thomas Reeves have acknowledged the presence of radionuclides in fluorosilicic acid.
Radon-222 is not an immediate threat because it stops emitting alpha radiation and decays into lead-214 in 3.86 days. Lead-214 appears to be harmless but it eventually decays into bismuth-214 and then into polonium-214. Unless someone knew to look for specific isotopes, no one would know that a transmutation into the polonium isotope had occurred.
Polonium-210, a decay product of bismuth-210, has a half-life of 138 days and gives off intense alpha radiation as it decays into regular lead and becomes stable. Any polonium-210 that might be present in the phosphate concentrate could pose a significant health threat. A very small amount of polonium-210 can be very dangerous, giving off 5,000 times more alpha radiation than the same amount of radium. As little as 0.03 microcuries (6.8 trillionths of a gram) of polonium-210 can be carcinogenic to humans.
The lead isotope behaves like calcium in the body. It may be stored in the bones for years before turning into polonium-210 and triggering a carcinogenic release of alpha radiation.
Drinking water fluoridated with fluorosilicic acid contains radon at every sequence of its decay to polonium. The fresher the pollution concentrate, the more polonium it will contain.
As long as the amount of contaminants added to the drinking water (including radionuclides in fluorosilicic acid) do not exceed the limits set forth in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has no regulatory problem with the use of any contaminated products for drinking water treatment.
Despite the increased cancer risk from using phosphate waste to fluoridate drinking water, the EPA nor the Centers for Disease Control have never commissioned or required any clinical studies with the pollution concentrate — specifically, the hexafluorsilicate radical whose toxicokinetic properties are different than the lone, fluoride ion.
Section 104 (I) (5) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) directs the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the EPA, the Public Health Service and the National Toxicology Program to initiate a program of research on fluoride safety. However, after almost 30 years of using fluorosilicic acid and sodium fluorosilicate to fluoridate the drinking water, not one study has been commissioned.
The fluoride ion only hypothetically exists as an entity in an ideal solution of purified water — and tap water is far from pure H2O. All clinical research with animal models is done using 99.97% pure sodium fluoride and double distilled or deionized water. Among the thousands of clinical studies about fluoride, not one has been done with the pollution concentrate or typical tap water containing fluorides.
The fluorosilicic acid is also contaminated with small traces of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, sulfates, iron and phosphorous, not to mention radionuclides. Some contaminants have the potential to react with the hexafluorosilicate radical and may act as complex ionic compounds. The biological fates and toxicokinetic properties of these complex ions are unknown.
The reality of artificial water fluoridation is so complex that determining the safety of the practice may be impossible. Tap water is chemically treated with chlorine, soluble silicates, phosphate polymers and many other chemicals. In addition, the source water itself may contain a variety of contaminants.
The addition of a fluoridation agent can create synergized toxicants in a water supply that have unique toxico-kinetic properties found only in that particular water supply. Consequently, any maladies resulting from chronic ingestion of the product likely would be dismissed as a local or regional anomaly unrelated to water fluoridation.
Technically, artificially fluoridating drinking water is a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Under statutes of the SDWA, federal agencies are forbidden from endorsing, supporting, requiring or funding the practice of adding any chemicals to the water supply other than for purposes of water purification. However, the Public Health Service (PHS) applies semantics to circumvent Federal law in order to promote and fund the practice.
PHS states that they only recommend levels of fluorides in the drinking water, and it is the sole decision of a state or community to fluoridate drinking water.
Federal agencies are forbidden from directly funding or implementing water fluoridation but Federal Block Grants are given to States to use as they see fit. Through second and third parties (such as the American Dental Association, state health departments and state fluoridation coordinators), PHS encourages communities to apply for Federal Block Grant funds to implement fluoridation.
The legality of using Federal Block Grant funds to fund water fluoridation, a practice prohibited by Federal law, has never been addressed in the courts.
Vendors selling the pollution concentrate as a fluoridation agent use a broad disclaimer found on the Material Data Safety Sheet that states: “no responsibility can be assumed by vendor for any damage or injury resulting from abnormal use, from any failure to adhere to recommended practices, or from any hazards inherent to the product.”
The next time you turn on the tap and water gushes out into a glass, reflect on the following disclaimer from the EPA’s 1997 Fluoride: Regulatory Fact Sheet: “In the United States, there are no Federal safety standards which are applicable to additives, including those for use in fluoridating drinking water.”
Don’s Comments: You have the right to know, from your municipal water supplier, what type of fluoridation they use… but don’t be surprised if whoever you speak to doesn’t know for sure (and consider that they may accidentally give you incorrect information).
If you suspect that your drinking water contains radionuclides, you’d be wise to consider a full-blown tap water treatment system that includes solid carbon filtration and a high-quality Reverse Osmosis unit.
And if your answer to this health challenge is to simply drink bottled water, remember that bottled water may contain tap water, which may have been fluoridated in such a way that results in there being radionuclides in the water.