Birmingham – together with only 10% of the UK’s population – accepted the expense of adding fluoride to its water supplies in 1964. Scientific research gives cause for concern on several counts.
Though apologists stress that fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water, tea and fish they are economical with the truth: the supplement in water delivered by Severn Trent is one of eleven industrial chemicals now classified as developmental neurotoxins, according to research published in the Lancet.
Some readers reacted strongly last year after seeing our reference to Birmingham council’s eulogy of fluoridation – one was Dr Peter Mansfield, who has done research on this issue in the city and took part in the York Review, which figures in the reports by Earl Baldwin and Professor KK Cheng.
Prevalence of hypothyroidism in the West Midlands
Earlier this year, the press picked up the news in the British Medical Journal of research, published in the Journal of Epidemiological & Community Health, which found that medical practices located in the West Midlands (a wholly fluoridated area) are nearly twice as likely to report the prevalence of hypothyroidism in comparison with Greater Manchester (non-fluoridated area).
Lead author Professor Stephen Peckham, from the Centre for Health Service Studies (University of Kent), said: “The finding of this cross-sectional study has important implications for public health policy in the UK and in other countries where fluoride is added to drinking water or in other forms such as fluoridated milk and salt”.
An article on the University of Kent website had the title: ‘Stop water fluoridation’
The findings of the study raised particular concerns about the validity of community fluoridation as a safe public health measure. It may be read here.
It may be read, for a price, and his work has been honoured by ‘Sense in Society’ – at best a suspect organisation according to now MP Zac Goldsmith – funded by a wide range of wealthy organisations and companies with varying related vested interests.
An earlier Critique of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Care and Public Health Inquiry into Water Fluoridation, by cross-bench peer Edward Baldwin, expresses the concern felt by the highly regarded Professor K K Cheng (epidemiology, Public Health Building, University of Birmingham) and colleagues.
It is good to note that Baldwin’s work on this issue continues – latest from Hansard:
Professor K K Cheng and two colleagues – Iain Chalmers (editor, James Lind Library, Oxford) and Trevor A Sheldon (professor and pro-vice chancellor, Health Services Research, University of York) are concerned about the way that evidence about the benefits of a fluoridated water supply is harnessed and uncertainties glossed over, which makes it hard for the public and professionals to participate in consultations on an informed basis.
Their 2007 paper was published on the site of the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Fluoridation (APPGAF); registration ceased when the 2010 general election was called but now steps are being taken to establish a new group – details available on the website in due course.
They highlight the problems that should be confronted in such consultations, emphasise the considerable uncertainties in the evidence and open by referring to the York review: “Given the certainty with which water fluoridation has been promoted and opposed, and the large number (around 3200) of research papers identified, the reviewers were surprised by the poor quality of the evidence and the uncertainty surrounding the beneficial and adverse effects of fluoridation”.
And later: “the Department of Health’s objectivity is questionable—it funded the British Fluoridation Society, and along with many other supporters of fluoridation it used the York review’s findings selectively to give an overoptimistic assessment of the evidence in favour of fluoridation”.
The report points out that that for some common clinical interventions, patients can weigh potential benefits and risks before agreeing to treatments but, “In the case of fluoridation, people should be aware of the limitations of evidence about its potential harms and that it would be almost impossible to detect small but important risks (especially for chronic conditions) after introducing fluoridation.
It contends that fluoride appears to comply with the legal definition of a medicinal product in the European Union (Codified Pharmaceutical Directive 2004/27/EC, Article 1.2), adding that in 1983 a British judge, Lord Jauncey, ruled that fluoridated water falls within that definition. He refers to the Medicines Act 1968: “Section 130 defines ‘medicinal product’ and I am satisfied that fluoride in whatever form it is ultimately purchased by the respondents falls within that definition.”
The report then makes these points:
- If fluoride is a medicine, evidence of its effects should be subject to the standards of proof expected of drugs, including evidence from randomised trials. (There have been no randomised trials of water fluoridation).
- If used as a mass preventive measure in well people, the evidence of net benefit should be greater than that needed for drugs to treat illness.
- An important distinction also exists between removing unnatural exposures (such as environmental tobacco smoke) and adding unnatural exposures (such as drugs or preservatives).
- In the second situation, evidence on benefit and safety must be more stringent.
They note that in some countries water fluoridation schemes have been withdrawn. Fluoridation is forbidden in Holland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic, while many other countries, including France, Belgium, Norway, Germany, Austria and Japan, do not fluoridate their water.
On August 26, 2014, Israel officially stopped adding fluoride to its water supplies, some medical and water experts having insisted that fluoride is, in essence, a toxic substance that causes other health problems, including kidney damage and bone weakness. The Times of Israel reported that the Health Minister strongly defended her position in a letter to a medical group, writing that ‘doctors have told me that fluoridation may harm pregnant women, people with thyroid problems and the elderly’.
When will the West Midlands observe the precautionary principle and follow suit?