The ongoing controversy over community water fluoridation is unlikely to go away despite a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruling that won praise from the American Dental Association (ADA) and similar groups.
The EPA denied a petition filed by groups seeking to ban the addition of fluoride to community water systems, a longtime practice aimed at reducing tooth decay. Critics of the practice, led by the Fluoride Action Network, contend that that fluoride supplementation poses neurotoxic risks to the U.S. population.
The EPA in a February letter denying the petition said the anti-fluoridationists’ petition had “not set forth a scientifically defensible basis to conclude that any persons have suffered neurotoxic harm as a result of exposure to fluoride in the U.S. through the purposeful addition of fluoridation chemicals to drinking water or otherwise from fluoride exposure in the U.S.”
Fluoride opponents said they would continue their fight but have not yet filed an appeal. In a statement, Michael Connett, an attorney with the Fluoride Action Network and the author of the petition, said the EPA holds “outdated assumptions” about fluoride.
“We presented the agency with a large body of human and animal evidence demonstrating that fluoride is a neurotoxin at levels now ingested by many U.S. children and vulnerable populations,” Connett said. “We also presented the agency with evidence showing that fluoride has little benefit when swallowed, and, accordingly, any risks from exposing people to fluoride chemicals in water are unnecessary. We believe that an impartial judge reviewing this evidence will agree that fluoridation poses an unreasonable risk.”
However, the ADA and the American Fluoridation Society, an advocacy group founded in 2014, praised the federal agency’s action. “It is always heartening when our government comes down on the side of sound science,” ADA President Gary Roberts said in a statement. “Public health policy recommending community water fluoridation results from years of scientifically rigorous analysis of the amount of fluoride people receive from all sources.”
Over the past seven decades, jurisdictions across the country have been supplementing naturally-occurring fluoride in community water supplies to promote oral health. Numerous studies credit water fluoridation efforts with major reductions in tooth decay during the second half of the 20th century. Many too, attest to the safety of fluoridation at optimum levels.
The EPA in its letter restated the effectiveness of water fluoridation programs. “Water fluoridation provides both systemic and topical exposure which together provide for maximum reduction in dental decay,” the agency said.