REMOVING FLUORIDE FROM WATER – HOW AND WHY
©2004 Suzin Stockton
In this day of massive environmental pollution, most people have some level of awareness about the need to purify their drinking water. Strangely though, many folks won’t hesitate to shower in the same tap water they refuse to drink. Most are surprised to learn that waterborne chemicals, including fluorides, are readily absorbed into the body from showering or bathing.1 In fact, these chemicals are actually more dangerous when absorbed through the skin, for in this manner they enter the bloodstream more easily, bypassing the gut where they would bind with minerals from food, thus diminishing their harmful effects.2 A growing awareness about water pollution is prompting an increasing number of Americans to buy bottled water (which may be as contaminated as tap water) or invest in water filtration units. Many use activated charcoal, sediment filters, water softeners and/or ceramic filters. These will remove one or more of the following: organic chemicals, particulate matter, calcium ions and some microorganisms. None of these methods will remove fluoride. Many people see the presence of fluoride in their drinking water as beneficial, however, and therefore are not concerned with removing it. They should be.
Fluoride as an Industrial Pollutant
Due to highly successful PR campaigns by industry (and government on behalf of industry) over the past half century+, many people mistakenly view fluoride as an essential nutrient. It is not. Fluoride, as it occurs naturally in water (as calcium fluoride), can cause many problems at high levels and is even more toxic when it is added to water supplies in the form of fluorosilicic acid, a waste product of the phosphate fertilizer industry that is part of a pollution concentrate that is heavily contaminated with toxins and heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead and cadmium (all carcinogens) and radioactive materials.3 This form of fluoride is by far the most widely used today to fluoridate public water supplies.
Adverse Effects of Fluoride
No safety tests have ever been conducted on industrial fluorosilicic acid (complexed with other toxins) used today in 90% of our nation’s fluoridated water supplies. The many animal studies done over the years have used a pharmaceutical grade of the less toxic sodium or calcium fluorides in distilled water. These animal studies, as well as epidemiological (population) studies, have shown many adverse effects, including:
- Lowered IQ
- Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia
- Cancers (especially osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in young males)
- Genetic mutations · Increased rates of hip fractures in older persons
- Birth defects, such as Down’s syndrome
- Immune system impairment
- Skeletal fluorosis (which is deforming and crippling in the later stages and may manifest as joint pain, muscle weakness and arthritis in early stages)
- Dental fluorosis (white or brown spots on the teeth, the result of weakened enamel – a reflector of systemic toxicity)
- Hypothyroidism (Fluoride was once used medically to suppress thyroid function.)
- Early onset of puberty (due to interference with pineal gland, which produces melatonin)
- Kidney damage
- Gastrointestinal problems
Fluoride ingestion interferes with many basic vital functions in the body by inhibiting enzyme activity, interfering with the use of oxygen by cells and accelerating the breakdown of collagen (the body’s major structural protein). Effects such as these have been of great concern to scientists studying fluoride. These concerns prompted 1500 Environmental Protection Agency professionals (Chapter 280 of the National Treasury Employees Union) to publicly voice their opposition to fluoridation in 1999.4 These scientists, engineers, lawyers and other professionals strongly opposed the high Maximum Contaminant Level (amount permitted in drinking water) of 4 parts per million (ppm) set by the EPA over a decade earlier. They noted that many of the effects listed above occurred at very low levels of ingestion, even at and far below the 1 ppm (1mg per liter) typically used in fluoridation of drinking water.
Decay Fighter or Toxin?
Despite the many problems associated with fluoride ingestion, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Medical Association (AMA), the trade associations for dentists and doctors respectively, support fluoridation as a means of preventing tooth decay. Early (pre-fluoridation) editions of their own professional journals, however, were critical of the practice. Their early criticism appears to be justified by subsequent research, which has shown that, rather than preventing cavities, fluoride merely delays their appearance by about three years.5 This seems to be due to the fact that tooth eruption itself is delayed by fluoride ingestion. While it may delay the onset of caries, the net result of the habitual ingestion of fluoride will be erosion of teeth (and bones), for by interfering with collagen formation, fluoride causes tissues of the body that should be hard (tooth and bone) to become soft (brittle) and those that should be soft (connective tissue) to become hard (calcified).6 While ADA endorsements of water fluoridation are no doubt highly influenced by the revenue the organization receives from endorsement of fluoridated products, the professions’ growing awareness of fluoride’s questionable effect on tooth decay prevention is reflected in some dental journal articles. Consider this statement from a special issue of the Journal of Dental Research (Vol. 69) in 1990: “Evidence for the absence of a systemic anticaries effect of fluoride is now recognized by leading dental researchers.” In other words, drinking fluoridated water does not reduce tooth decay! It is also interesting to note that the income of dentists in fluoridated areas is actually higher than those practicing in non-fluoridated areas due to the increased incidence of dental fluorosis (mottling of teeth) in fluoridated communities and subsequent greater demand for cosmetic dentistry.7 So, even if it prevented tooth decay, water fluoridation would not decrease dental expenditures as has been claimed.
While we are all at risk from the toxic effects of fluoride, some individuals are at greater risk, for they retain more of it and thus more quickly feel its adverse effects. According to toxicological profiles, those sub-sets of the population that are unusually susceptible to fluoride toxicity include the elderly, people who are deficient in calcium, magnesium and vitamin C, people who have cardiovascular and kidney problems and those with overall poor nutrition.8 Infants, developing fetuses, children during tooth-forming years, pregnant women, diabetics and people with low thyroid function are likewise especially vulnerable to the effects of fluoride. Since this list covers a very large portion of the US population, one must question the safety of water fluoridation.
Total Fluoride Exposure
The original fluoridation guideline (set in the 1940s) was to add an average of 1PPM of fluoride to water supplies. This was believed to be a dose that would be high enough to prevent tooth decay, yet one that would be low enough to prevent toxic reactions. That average 1PPM standard has never changed. Since 1 ppm of fluoride is equal to 1mg per liter of water, individuals who consume 1 liter of water per day (which is far less water intake than recommended by health professionals) will take in 1mg. of fluoride from water. It is highly unlikely, however, that this will be their only source of fluoride exposure. It is crucial to realize that that fluoride has become ubiquitous – is everywhere – in our culture. Today, after 60+ years of water fluoridation, which now affects well more than 60% of the nation, we have alarmingly high levels of fluoride in the food chain as a result of:
- Irrigating, processing and packaging foods in fluoridated water
- Residues of fluoride-based pesticides (such as cryolite) on commercial produce and grains
- Residues of fluoride from phosphate fertilizers used to grow commercial produce and grains
- Airborne fluoride contamination of fruits and vegetables grown in the vicinity of certain industrial plants (especially aluminum and phosphate)
Some foods are naturally high in fluoride. Tea is an example, with one cup of black tea containing 69 ppm and a cup of green tea having 88 ppm: That translates into 17.25mg and 22mg per cup, respectively.9 This far exceeds the 1mg per day figure cited above. Juices (especially grape, which has been found to contain up to 6.8mg/L10), beer, sodas and other canned beverages are also typically high in fluoride. Just a breakfast of cereal, milk and orange juice will provide more than twice the recommended 1mg of fluoride. Additional fluoride exposure today comes from:
- Dental products (toothpaste, rinses, gels, varnishes, sealants, filling materials, toothpicks, floss, etc.)
- Medicines (many anti-depressive drugs, such as Prozac; antibiotics, such as Cipro; asthma drugs that use propellants containing fluoride; and hundreds more)
- General anesthetics
- Some vitamins
- Non-stick cookware (especially if aluminum-based, as the fluoride in the coating greatly increases the toxicity of the aluminum)
- Some bottled waters (which may be simply filtered tap water)
- Tobacco smoke
Not only do we inhale fluorides from tobacco smoke, but also from the airborne emissions of many industries, including aluminum, steel and phosphate fertilizer. Coal burning also pollutes the atmosphere with fluoride, as do electrical power plants. Volcanic eruptions are a natural source of airborne fluoride. Add to this the fact that fluoride is a cumulative poison, and we can see that efforts to expand water fluoridation are misguided. We need instead to make a conscious effort to avoid fluoride exposure, for we are being overdosed. The first step is to identify fluoride sources.
Many people live in communities that they do not know have fluoridated water supplies, for oftentimes the decision to fluoridate is not made by public vote. Instead, that decision may be made quietly and without adequate public discussion by county commissioners (as recently occurred here in Pinellas County, FL) with virtually no media coverage to alert the public, either before or after such a monumental decision is made. Make it a point to find out if your water supply is fluoridated!
What to Do?
If you learn that your water supply is fluoridated, you’ll want to make efforts to have the fluoridation decision reversed. At the same time, you’ll want to assure that your own drinking (and bathing) water is fluoride-free. Water distillers and reverse osmosis systems effectively remove fluoride, along with other dangerous chemicals and are a practical and cost-effective solution to treating drinking water. Unfortunately, however, these methods are neither practical nor cost effective for treating all of the water coming into your home. Whole house filtration is necessary if your water supply is fluoridated because there is no shower filter on the market capable of removing fluoride – and fluoride, as previously mentioned, is readily absorbed through the skin. There are three types of filtration media that will remove fluoride from water: bone char (a form of carbon), alumina (aluminum oxide) and a fluoride ion exchange resin. Knowledgeable water treatment professionals in your community can provide details about these filtration options. It should be noted that fluoride is not removed from water by boiling; it only becomes more concentrated in this manner. Even if you have effectively removed fluoride from your drinking and bathing water, if you are living in a fluoridated community, you will still need to exercise caution when dining out, for the water served – and everything made with it, like coffee – will contain fluoride. Aside from drinking only non-fluoridated water, you’ll want to buy only unprocessed foods. Choose whole foods that are grown organically, without use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The ultimate solution to the fluoride pollution problem, however, is to stop fluoridation.