Science in Society Archive

No to Fluoridation

The "mass medication" of UK’s drinking water with a listed poison will cost London’s health authorities alone more than £21 million. Sam Burcher reports

Fluoridation for all

Fluoridation was introduced into the UK in the 1960s when areas in and around Birmingham and Newcastle were fluoridated, along with the Republic of Ireland, making up 11% of the UK population. The Government has now decided to introduce fluoride into public water supplies throughout Britain, with target areas of Inner London, North-West England and Northern Ireland, with the aim of reducing tooth decay among children in “deprived” areas [1].

Under the Water Act 2003, water providers will be obliged to add fluoride to their supplies. According to a letter from health minister Hazel Blears and environment minister Elliott Morley to the deputy PM John Prescott, “those who remain adamantly opposed would be able to use water filters that remove fluoride or buy bottled drinking water”.

Campaigners opposed to fluoride include the National Pure Water Association (NPWA), T he Green Network and The Green Party. Green Party spokesperson Mart y n Shrewsbury says, “The general trend in the world is against fluoridation.” He pointed out that the risk of tooth decay in fluoridated Gateshead and non-fluoridated Liverpool is the same [2].

Dental disease increases six-fold by fluoridation

The American Journal of Diseases of Children states: “With few exceptions the biochemistry of fluorine (fluoride) emphasizes its toxic features. The production of endemic dental fluorosis in human beings by drinking water is an outstanding example of the toxic effect of the excessive intake of the element.” Dental fluorosis is fluoride poisoning that causes hypomineral iz ation (irregular calcification) and a disorder of ameloblasts (enamel forming cells) that mottle, weaken and discolour childrens' teeth. In 2000 , the Newcastle NHS Trust reported dental fluorosis in 54% of children aged 8-9 years compared to 24% of 8-9 year olds in non-fluoridated Northumberland.

The 1ppm (part per million) level of fluoride in UK water supplies deemed “safe” by government is 100 times higher than normally found in mothers milk. Prof Paul Connett, a leading authority on fluoride, spoke out at the Science, Medicine and The Law conference in London last week. He said, “There are no benefits only risks for infants ingesting heightened levels of fluoride at such an early age, [when] susceptibility to toxins are particularly high.”

In 1999, Baroness Hayman responded in a Written Answer for the Government, “We accept that dental fluorosis is a manifestation of systemic toxicity.” Despite this sanction, the Government have backtracked on the safety of fluoride , supported by the British Dental Association, which states that fluoride is a positive step towards narrowing the health inequalities that currently exist [3].

Fluoride is poison

Hydrofluosilic acid (H 2 SiF 6 ) and other fluorosilicates are not naturally occurring. They are waste products derived from the industrial manufacture of aluminium, zinc, uranium, aerosols, insecticides, fertilizers, plastics, lubricants and pharmaceuticals.

Professor Kaj Roholm , former Chief of the Toxicology Committee for the National Research Council the author of the first and most comprehensive monograph on fluorosilicates [4] classifies hydrofluorosilic acid and hexafluorosilic acid as “extremely toxic.” One chemical company selling fluoride to water suppliers describes it as “a colourless to straw yellow, transparent, fuming, corrosive liquid with a pungent odour and irritating action on the skin.”

Hydrofluo ros ilic a cid is listed as a Part II poisons under the Poisons Act 1972. As such its use as a commercially ingestible product in water contravenes UK and EU pharmaceutical legislation governing the regulation of medicinal substances, as well as the Poisons Act.

Dr Arvid Carlsson of Sweden, a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2000 advises against fluoridation. He says, “Fluoridation of water supplies would also treat people who may not benefit from the treatment. Side effects cannot be excluded and thus some might only have negative effect without any benefit” [5].

Worldwide rejection

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway , Switzerland, West Germany, Netherlands and Italy have all banned the addition of hydrofluorosilic acid to drinking water. So have Japan and India, where fluoride occurs naturally and skeletal fluorosis (thickening of bones) is prevalent. In 1942, the Lancet reported severe dental fluorosis in areas where natural mineral salts such as calcium fluoride concentrations of one ppm - the Government's “safe” limit - caused skeletal defects in children with poor nutrition.

Dr John Colquhoun, former Principal Dental Officer for Auckland, New Zealand changed his mind about fluoride when his worldwide study revealed that dental decay was “slightly better in children in non-f luo ridated areas” and fluoride caused more harm than good to children's teeth [6].

Professor Hardy Limeback, a consultant to the Canadian Dental Association also studied the health effects of fluoride on children in fluoridated Toronto . He found an increasing trend in Torontonians having double the level of fluoride in hipbones compared to children in unfluoridated Montreal. Prof Limeback warned that children under three years should never drink fluoridated water or use fluoride toothpaste or products, and that fluoridated water must never be used for making baby formula. He rebuts the safety of fluoride and is concerned that no tests have been undertaken by the international pro-fluoride lobby to assess the effects of fluoride accumulation [7].

The WHO is aware of over-exposure to fluorides and concludes in its 1994 monograph Fluoride and Dental Health , “Dental and public health administrators should be aware of the total fluoride exposure in the population before introducing any additional fluoride programme for caries (tooth cavities) prevention.”

Bad for bones

Since 1990, 54 US and Canadian cities have rejected hydroflou ros ilic acid, but some 60% of the US remains fluoridated. In these areas there has been a dramatic increase in osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in young males aged between 9-19. A National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results Program recorded an increase of 79% of osteosarcomas in young men living in fluoridated areas of Iowa and Seattle. But in the unfluoridated areas the incidence of bone cancer decreased by 4%.

In New Jersey , rates of osteosarcoma were three to seven times higher among males aged between 10-19 than in unfluoridated regions [8]. This evidence is supported by the US National Toxicology Program, which recorded a sta tistic ally significant dose-related increase of osteosarcom as in young male rats ingesting fluoride [9].

A paper published in Science in the 1980's stated that fluoride directly affects bone cells by increasing proliferation and alkaline p hosphata se activity. It also enhances growth and mineral iza tion of embryonic bone [10].

Five major epidemiological studies from France, the UK and the US show higher rates of hip fractures in fluoridated regions. The US has the highest number of hip and other bone fractures and the longest history of fluoride use. In 1997, the EPA scientists went on record against the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water [11]. Dr William Marcus, a Senior Toxicologist at EPA said, “The EPA should act immediately to protect the public, not just on the cancer data, but on the evidence of bone fractures, arthritis, mutagenicity and other effects.”

Links to obesity and hypothyroid

Water in the West Midlands has been fluoridated for forty years. In 2003, the region topped the UK's “fat list” with 22% of the population classed as clinically obese. Doctors are concerned that pregnant mothers ingesting fluoride from drinking water are predisposing their offspring to obesity [12].

Dr Barry Durrant-Peatfield, a thyroid specialist, believes that fluoride is partially to blame for the high incidence of under active thyroid problems (hypothyroidsm) in Birmingham. He says, “There is no doubt that fluoride is enzyme disruptive and one thing it affects is thyroid hormones.” This is because fluoride interferes with the uptake of iodine crucial for the regulation of hormones. Dr Peatfield was suspended by the GMC (General Medical Council) because he made natural thyroid treatments available to his patients. He was subsequently reinstated.

Up until the 1950s, European doctors used fluoride to reduce the symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland. However, the maximum daily intake of 6.6mg of fluoride by populations overexposed to fluoride exceeds the maximum dose of 4.6mg used to depress the thyroid gland. In the US, an estimated 13 million women have been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid, and drugs used to treat hypothyroi dism were the second most prescribed medication in 1999 [13].

Campaign against fluoride

A recent study of five primary schools around Birmingham indicated that 34% of young children had dental fluorosis [14]. Peter Mansfield, former President of The National Pure Water Association (NPWA) tested over 500 volunteers in the West Midlands and found that 60% had four times the “safe” level of fluoride in their urine [15]. The NPWA has campaigned against fluoridation for 4 decades. These are some of th eir concerns:

  • The susceptibility of children to toxic substances in water and the environment
  • The toxicity of fluoride in water
  • The prevalence of dental fluorosis
  • Failure to apply the Precautionary Principle
  • Violations of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union 2000

The junior health minister for England and Wales estimates that 15% more children will have less dental decay because of mass fluoridation. But how many more will have dental fluorosis, and cumulative health problems caused by fluoride? And the chief target group for fluoridation, the less well off, are being deprived of choice, for it is precisely they who will not be able to afford bottled water and filters, to protect their children from a poison more toxic than lead.

The York Review (2000) on the safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation, presented by England's Department of Health Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (NHS CRD) at York University, states that “48% of children in optimum fluoridated areas worldwide have dental fluorosis and that 12.5% have symptoms of “aesthetic concern.” They conclude there is “surprisingly little research” into the harmful effects from fluoride and recommend “high quality research” into fluoride's possible links with infant mortality, IQ and congenital defects [16].

Scotland's devolved parliament pulled the plug on plans to add fluoride to Scotlan d's drinking water in November 2004. The first minister said, “We will not be changing the current legislation on fluoridation of the water supply in this parliament. We will however bring forward a range of other measures to improve the dental health of children, especially in their early years.”

To participate in a letter writing campaign to stop water companies adding fluoride to tap water contact the National Pure Water Association (NPWA) or

Article first published 07/01/05


  1. David Cracknell. Secret plan for fluoride in all water. The Sunday Times, 11 th May 2003.
  2. The National Purewater Association Campaign for Safe Drinking Water, Briefing paper, Water Fluoridation , April 1999
  3. House of Lords written Answers, No: 158, 20/4/99.
  4. Infodocs FO3: Solubility and toxicity of different fluorides.
  6. Colquhoun J. Why I changed by mind about Fluoride. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 1997, v olume 41, p 29-44.
  7. Open letter by Dr Hardy Limeback, Associate Professor and Head of Preventive Dentistry, University of Toronto. Why I am now officially opposed to adding fluoride to drinking water.
  8. Lee JR. Fluoridation and bone cancer. Fluoride 1993, 26:79-82US Public Health Service 1991 F1-F7.
  9. US Public Health Service 1991 F1-F7
  10. Farley JR, Wergeral JE, Baylink DJ. Fluoride directly stimulates proliferation and alkaline phosphatase activities of bone forming cells. Science 1983, 222, 330-332.
  11. Diesendorf M, Colquhoun J, Spittle B, et al. New evidence on Fluoridation or Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 1997, 21 (2) 187-190.or
  12. Caroline Wheeler. Tap water can make you fat. Sunday Mercury , Jul 11, 2004.
  13. Canaris GJ, et al The Colorado thyroid disease prevalence study. Archives of Internal Medicine 2000, 160:526-534.
  16. The York Review

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