Of all the "ugly truths" that anti-fluoridation activist Paul Connett presented to the Brooksville City Council last week, this appeared to be one of the ugliest:
"There is extensive evidence that fluoride damages the brains of developing … animals and humans."
Kids getting dumber because of fluoride.
What could be scarier? What more could the council need to hear to keep fluoride out of the city's water supply?
Especially because Connett backed his claim with a particularly impressive-looking report — from Harvard University no less.
The report is a 2012 analysis of 27 studies, most of them from China, that showed a link between exposure to high levels of fluoride and drops in IQ scores. The analysis wasn't conclusive, Connett acknowledged, but it did find a relationship that pro-fluoridation folks are reluctant to explore.
"To go about this in this cavalier fashion, to never organize a study to see if this is happening to our children in fluoridated communities, is in my view outrageous," Connett said.
Okay, but some of those high rates of exposure were very high indeed — up to 11.5 parts per million. And many of the other highly exposed groups were drinking water with more than 3 parts per million of fluoride.
That's more than four times the concentration used to protect teeth: 0.7 parts per million.
And that, by the way, is the same or lower than the level in the water supply of some "low exposure" groups in the studies. In other words, the standard fluoridation level in this country was presented in some of these studies as an amount that allowed kids' IQs to flourish.
There were other weaknesses, too.
The communities with high fluoride levels tended to be polluted and desperately poor — the sort of places that smart people might want to leave.
The Chinese researchers, however, did nothing to account for that possible migration. Nor did they adequately control for contaminants like mercury, arsenic or lead — all of which have been proven to stunt intellectual growth.
So it's not terribly surprising that this year, in the midst of a similar fluoridation debate in Kansas, the authors of the Harvard analysis wrote the following disclaimer in an email to the Wichita Eagle:
"These (study) results do not allow us to make any judgment regarding possible levels of risk at levels of exposure typical for water fluoridation."
It's true that the authors asked for more research regarding fluoride's possible impact on intelligence. And Connett is right that there haven't been any follow-up studies on humans, which tend to be prohibitively expensive.
But when he appeared before the council — at the invitation of anti-fluoridation zealot and Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn — he kind of made it sound as if there was no science at all to refute this connection.
But there is. Plenty of it, as a matter of fact, including a 2009 study that forced rats to drink water with fluoride concentrations as much as 230 times higher than publicly fluoridated water. No difference was measured in the rats' ability to learn how to find food. In fact, for unknown reasons, the zero-fluoride rats turned out to be the slowest to catch on.
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I haven't researched all of Connett's other claims as thoroughly as the ones about IQ, though I couldn't resist looking into this alarming statement: "Fluoride may be killing a few young children."
This was based on an inconclusive report from 2006, showing that fluoride might cause a type of bone cancer in boys. But when the final analysis of the data was completed five years later, it found "no significant association between bone fluoride levels and osteosarcoma."
Children dying from drinking fluoridated water?
Yes, it's ugly. It's just not true.