Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Letter to The Spark

£42 million to launch a 20 per cent extension to the nation’s water fluoridation programme? What a sad commentary upon the public health priorities of this bankrupt government; bankrupt of ideas and imagination, that is. It wouldn’t surely take that much; a few thousand perhaps, to persuade the producers of childrens’ TV shows like Blue Peter and Sesame Street to feature kids and muppets, all armed with toothbrushes, going at it like crazy to the sound of rap music or similar.
In no time at all the whole nation would be on to teeth brushing. Sales of toothbrushes and paste would rocket; more jobs would be created; more kids would have cleaner and better teeth with less plaque and decay and, extraordinarily important to the Department of Health, more targets would be achieved.Eureka! Juvenile tooth decay – a problem solved.
Well, not exactly. The practice of fluoridation actually addresses two problems; dental caries reduction for children is the smokescreen for the second one which, for some in the chain of responsible government, is the more important issue. I refer to the problem of waste disposal – getting rid of an environmentally unfriendly chemical waste.
This is how fluoridation came to be launched in the USA in the post-war era where vast quantities of nuclear processing waste had accumulated in holding ponds. It was too dangerous to be dumped, even in the ocean; and too costly to neutralize or re-process. Dripping it into the public water supply was deemed the most economic solution. Putting it bluntly, it was probably the first example of officially authorised fly-tipping, courtesy of the US Defense Department. The Environmental Protection Agency was silenced “in the interests of national security”, with the Food and Drug Administration similarly neutered.The dosage safety margins for public consumption were firstly miscalculated, by an ‘expert’ by as much as 100 per cent, then subsequently revised downwards without reason or consultation.
The same principle endures today as it has in all English-speaking countries having military nuclear interests. The chemical currently in use – a distilled by-product of fertiliser manufacture, was actually used in the US as a source of nuclear fuel.It will, in its raw undiluted state, dissolve glass, steel, copper and concrete, and very quickly too, while giving off superheated Hydrogen fluoride fumes liable to attack the human respiratory system and digestive tract. It is not something that I personally would wish to be obliged to consume at the behest of a misinformed Secretary of State for Health, no matter how many socially deprived children and their parents with defective teeth would seek to claim it as their birthright.
Even at the claimed safe level of one part per million, 60 per cent or more of it will be retained by the renal function most likely spelling a widespread increase in kidney failure. In 1966 four kidney patients in the US died when their dialysis machines became destabilised by an overdosing of fluoride in their water supply; by as much as 600 per cent according to some water engineers. Today, that would be put down to a computer malfunction.
Water companies in the US have had many problems with the fluoride compound corroding their underground supply pipes. The replacement cost of a job like that, divided among the consumers is mind boggling. Our own copper domestic systems would not be immune and dissolved copper in our drinks and food is not a good idea.
The Health Minister says we shouldn’t worry because America has had fluoride for over 60 years. True, but he didn’t say why; he probably didn’t know. Stuart Geddes, of the British Dental Association, a guest of a recent phone-in programme on BBC Radio Wales, said that 67 per cent of America is still receiving it. Why only 67 per cent when it was originally 100 per cent? Because the age of enlightenment dawned earlier across the pond. Communities in state after state have fought the health authorities, often bitterly, to have it stopped because of its deleterious health effects.
The people of Northern Ireland have done the same. They had Mrs Thatcher’s government to thank for their ‘health benefit’. The negative vote on fluoride is endemic throughout mainland Europe. Nowhere now except for Balboa in Spain fluoridates the drinking water. Why that exception?It hosts a fertiliser factory producing the waste product which is centre-stage to the whole issue of fluoridation. It is so corrosive and hot that the tanks in which it is exported and conveyed to points of use have to be lined with rubber and surrounded by a jacket of liquid nitrogen. The handling regulations are on a par with nuclear weapons.In 2001, one of the tanks en-route from Spain to a UK destination, possibly Ellesmere Port, sprang a leak at Avonmouth.
Upon discovery, the port was shut down for 30 hours. Emergency crews were uncertain about the technique for dealing with it. Such details as were available suggested we were only a hair’s breadth away from a very serious life-threatening incident which could have affected the communities of Avonmouth, Portishead and Lawrence Weston, depending on wind direction.
In 1994, a road tanker accident in Florida, resulting in a large spillage, put people in hospital for 6 weeks and longer while the road surface had to be scraped up and taken to a licensed decontamination centre; a big job costing four million dollars.
Does this horror film scenario have to be the hidden penalty for us all because some (only some) children are prone to have poor dental health? There are other solutions to problem number one. Problem number two should be the prerogative of the Health & Safety Executive, not industrial companies seeking a protected profit line out of a hitherto worthless, but environmentally hazardous, waste product.
Our misinformed politicians and health officials, well-meaning though they may be, need to wake up to the realities of fluoridation; and wake up fast!Bernard J Seward
Member: National Pure Water Association Safe Water Campaign for Avon, Glos and Wilts Bristol & S W Socialist Environment & Resources Association Food Standards Agency