water fountain

Fluoride in water has been the subject of debate for decades. It’s added to water supplies in efforts to reduce tooth decay. But critics say it poses serious long-term health risks to adults and children.

A byproduct of the fertilizer industry, fluoride is added to drinking water across the U.S. According to. Dr. Joseph Mercola, fluoridated water does not prevent tooth decay (topical applications do though). He claims that it can reduce IQ levels, impair neurobehavioral development and cause brain damage.

But according to recent data from Public Health England, in areas where there is fluoridated water, levels of tooth decay are lower than in areas where it is unavailable; “Levels of general tooth decay were 15% lower for five-year-olds and 11% lower for 12-year-olds,” reports the BBC. “In fluoridated areas, there were 45% fewer children aged one to four admitted to hospital [for dental issues].” England is one of just a few countries in Europe that add fluoride to water.

In Israel, the Supreme Court has recently ruled that the country must stop adding fluoride chemicals into public water supplies within the next year because of concerns over health issues. Canada has decreased fluoride by 25 percent. And here in the U.S. cities and municipalities are voting to remove fluoride from public water supplies.

Dr. Mercola’s website reports on several cases just in 2014:

 1. Wellington, Florida: After hours of debate and testimony from medical experts and residents, council members voted to end 14 years of fluoridation. A number of pro-fluoride dentists are unfortunately working to overturn the council’s vote, but it’s still a victory for now. FAN reported:2

“Ultimately, a majority of councilors agreed that citizens shouldn’t be forced to ingest an unnecessary chemical in the public drinking water supply.”

2. Amherst County, Virginia: The Service Authority Board voted to discontinue fluoridation because of conflicting opinions on what constitutes “optimal” levels of fluoride. According to FAN, “Several Board Supervisors felt that the additive was unnecessary and a waste of resources.”

3. Wood Village, Oregon: The Woodsville City Council was considering adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water, but after polling residents found that 100% of respondents were against it. They have since ended their fluoridation discussions.

4. Sebastopol, California: City Councilors voted unanimously against fluoridation in Sonoma County because of concerns the fluoride could leach into their groundwater from surrounding communities, putting residents at risk.

5. Bantry, Ireland:Town Councilors voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for an immediate end to fluoridation throughout Ireland. Two other towns—Skibbereen and Clonakitty—also passed similar resolutions in 2013. Support for this historic vote was provided by the local group West Cork Fluoride Free.

Albuquerque is also in the middle of a fluoridation battle, with a vote coming this spring on whether or not to remove the chemical from its water supply.

According to Mercola.com, “One particularly striking animal study published in 1995 showed that fluoride ingestion had a profound influence on the animals’ brains and altered behavior. Pregnant rats given fluoride produced hyperactive offspring. And animals given fluoride after birth became apathetic, lethargic ‘couch potatoes’.”

England’s PHE also looked for signs of harms “but found none,” reported the BBC, but it added, “It has been suggested water fluoridation can increase the risk of some cancers, hip fractures and Downs syndrome.”

In 2011, the The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced recommendations for new standard for fluoride in drinking water be reduced to 0.7 milligrams per liter from levels as high as 1.2 milligrams per liter.

More decreases and restrictions in the U.S. are likely to reduce fluoridation in public water, and whether or not this improves or harms our health  will take decades to determine. But one thing is certain: the issue remains controversial. “This is reckless, as you cannot control the dose ingested, or who receives it, and there’s no medical supervision,” says Mercola. “Water fluoridation clearly violates your right to informed consent as far as medical decisions go.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Martina Yach