How Not to Argue in Favour of Environments: Water Fluoridation in Portland

It is disappointing to see that at least a subgroup of the well-known Sierra Club have fallen in with misinformation.

Whilst doing a little research for my previous article on osteosarcoma rates in relation to water fluoridation in Australia, I stumbled upon the following article; Sierra Club Opposes Portland Water Fluoridation Measure 26-151, on the Oregon Sierra Club Blog.

This news release relies on the same nonsense screamed by QWAF, Merilyn Haines and others.

These include the “toxic waste from fertiliser production” argument, which of course makes about as much sense as calling table salt “urea extract” and completely ignores the chemistry involved, whereby the fluorosilicic acid compound rapidly breaks down to fluoride ions and hydrated silica sand when added to water and does not remain as fluorosilicic acid.

The article also highlights the typical hyped up risks claimed by anti-fluoridation advocates, such as studies demonstrating an increased risk of bone cancer, neurological impairment, thyroid dysfunction “and more” without linking or referencing a single claim.

The article may also contradict itself, or at the least condemn itself with two quotes. One from Giedwoyn whom makes the point that Portland’s water is “some of the purest water in the world…” while Fisheries scientist and Columbia Group Chair Jeff Fryer is quotes as saying that the Portland rivers are “already overloaded with toxins.”

Which is it? Pure or polluted? Or is this a case of upstream-downstream? If the former, there’s your contradiction and if the latter, I suspect the Oregon Sierra Club needs to do more in regards to run-off and grey water management advocacy rather than parrot off unfounded anti-fluoridation propaganda.

The article also complains about the fluoride compounds not being “pharmaceutical grade” but what does this mean other than that it contains a tiny amount of impurities that are known about via analysis and included on the label? These impurities dilute to homeopathy grade when the fluoride compounds are added to water supplies to WHO recommended standards. Fluoride is fluoride regardless.

Furthermore, are they kidding anyone that they would be any happier with water fluoridation were it pharmaceutical grade?

Lastly, the article misleads with large numbers without placing them into context. For instance they mention that more than 1 million pounds or around 454 tonnes of fluoridation chemicals will be added to the water annually. Each molecule includes two hydrogen atoms and a silicon atom as well as the fluoride (H2SiF6). These two can be ignored. By atomic weight, the fluoride atoms amount for about 80% of the mix, bring the total down to 360 tonnes annually.

Taking the average value from the data that the Portland Water Bureau provide, which amounts to 36.66 billion gallons, we end up with an average annual supply of 138.77 gigalitres of water or roughly 138.77 megatonnes of water. Placed into context, the amount of fluoride in the water is miniscule.

The same can be said regarding the ongoing cost. The Oregon Sierra Club quote this ongoing cost as $575,000 annually. Looking again at the Portland Water Bureau data, we find an average customer base of 348,180 people annually. If they shared with cost equally, the per capita cost would be $1.65 annually. $1.65 per year for additional protection from tooth decay seems a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me. One is hard pressed to find a tube of toothpaste for that price nowadays!

The Sierra Club is a well-known environmental organisation with a history spanning more than a century. On the Oregon chapter blog, they claim that their chapter has more than 20,000 members.

Long-time readers of this blog will know only too well my passion for environmental governance. I challenge this article in the same fashion that I challenge anyone. I made the point previously in relation to the angry backlash I faced with my articles on fluoridation; my work does nothing more than point out error. If there is any truth to the claim that fluoridation of drinking water is bad, I’ve seen no evidence for it and the propagators of such claims should be embarrassed for promoting such easily refuted arguments. That’s my work in a nutshell.

The Oregon Sierra Club do themselves no benefits by posting easily refuted claims. In fact, they only hurt their reputation.

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19 responses to “How Not to Argue in Favour of Environments: Water Fluoridation in Portland

  1. Steve Mullinax

    Thank you for your response to the Columbia Group’s position on Portland fluoridation. I have been a member of the group for at least 30 years. I find their arguments mystifying. This is the first time I have ever been embarrassed about a position that the Group has taken. I am gathering material to respond to them, and will certainly let them know my dissatisfaction.

    • Columbia group?

      Thanks for your feed back. Please feel free to contact me if you haave questions or require further evidence. I’m getting familiar with the typical unfounded anti-fluoridation arguments and am always here to help to combat such misinformation.

      • Steve Mullinax

        Thank you! I’ll let you know if I have questions.

      • Steve Mullinax

        Sorry, I didn’t explain the “Columbia Group” reference. Columbia Group is the local Sierra Club organization. It is part of the Oregon Chapter. “Columbia” refers to the Columbia River, the major stream which drains the US Pacific Northwest. The area of the Columbia Group includes at least the Portland area. I’m not sure how much more area it covers and I can’t seem to find a map. The Group web site says, “The Columbia Group is an active group of over 11,000 local citizens from the Northwest corner of the state of Oregon.”

        Quoting from the press release: ““Human health is intertwined with the health of our rivers, aquatic life, and entire ecosystem,” said Antonia Giedwoyn, spokesperson for Oregon Sierra Club’s Columbia Group, which made the decision to oppose the measure. ”

        Thus, the Columbia Group is the relevant organization within the Sierra Club, making the decision on the fluoridation measure.

      • Cheers, Steve, for that explanation. Sorry for not knowing the finer details of that chapter. It is disappointing that they quickly jumpped onto thr anti-fluoridation without checking the quality of their information. I wish you well in your efforts. If I’ve learnt anything from my efforts in Australia, it’s that the typical anti-fluoride crusader “knows” they are right and a completely insulated from counter-arguments, even if it points out nothing more than their inconsistencies.

  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901113000087

    Arsenic is a major concern with the toxic industrial waste which is used for fluoridation, as shown by this 2013 paper in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Policy. The first two listed authors are William Hirzy and Robert Carton, both former senior scientists at the EPA.
    “The US could save $1 billion to more than $5 billion/year by using USP [US Pharmacopoeia, i.e. pharmaceutical grade] NaF [sodium fluoride] in place of HFSA [hydrofluorosilicic acid] while simultaneously mitigating the pain and suffering of citizens that result from use of the technical [industrial] grade fluoridating agents. Other countries, such as Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Australia that use technical grade fluoridating agents may realise similar benefits by making this change.”

    I’m fairly sure the authors are not in favour of any kind of water fluoridation, and just went through the exercise to show the complete absurdity of government policy on this issue.

    http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/arsenic.cfm

    From the Environmental Protection Agency:
    “The MCLG [maximum contaminant level goal] for arsenic is zero. EPA has set this level of protection based on the best available science to prevent potential health problems. Based on the MCLG, EPA has set an enforceable regulation for arsenic, called a maximum contaminant level (MCL), at 0.010 mg/L or 10 ppb. MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.”

    • Thanks for that, but what’s your point?

      It’s expected that scientists attempt to be unbias. Pointing out that you thinkthese authors hold a bias is not authority, but demands extra caution when using their work as evidence.

      Furthermore, you simply imply that the arsenic, which at 10ppb is close to homeopathy grade, is causing harm to the public. Where is the reports of death or illness due to arsenic within drinking water? That these authors state ” pain and suffering of citizens that result from use of the technical [industrial] grade fluoridating agents” isn’t evidence in itself.

      I’m all ears.

      • My point is that you don’t know what you’re talking about. You should be embarrassed about comparing 10 ppb of arsenic in drinking water to homoeopathy, which is of no relevance. The EPA’s MCLG for arsenic in drinking water is zero because any amount of arsenic increases cancer risk.

        From the US National Research Council report Arsenic in Drinking Water: 2001 Update:
        p 5 “The other recent studies of arsenic in humans, taken together with the many studies discussed in the 1999 NRC report, provide a sound and sufficient database showing an association between bladder and lung cancers and chronic arsenic exposure in drinking water, and they provide a basis for quantitative risk assessment.”
        p 6 “in laboratory studies, cellular effects of arsenic occur at concentrations below those found in the urine of people who had ingested drinking water with arsenic concentrations as low as 10 mcg/L”
        p 11 “The subcommittee’s estimates of theoretical lifetime excess risk of lung cancer and bladder cancer for US populations at different concentrations of arsenic in drinking water are presented in Table ES-1. These are maximum-likelihood (central-point) risk estimates, not upper-bound (worst-case) estimates.
        p 12 The table shows an excess lifetime risk incidence per 10,000 people for an arsenic concentration of 3 mcg/L in drinking water of 4 females and 7 males for bladder cancer, and 5 females and 4 males for lung cancer. The figures are higher for higher arsenic concentrations.
        p 223 “The subcommittee’s evaluation and analyses of the data from southwestern Taiwan indicate that the lifetime excess cancer risks in the United States for bladder and lung cancers combined at arsenic concentrations in drinking water between 3 and 20 mcg/L (ppb) are estimated to be between 9 and 72 per 10,000 people based on US background cancer incidence data.”
        “Depending on the dose metric used in the study, excess risk estimates for cancer in the United States derived from a recent investigation in Chile are other similar to or higher than risk estimates derived from the Taiwanese data.”

        http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10194

        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901113000087

        Environmental Science and Policy 2013
        Comparison of hydrofluorosilicic acid and pharmaceutical sodium fluoride as fluoridating agents-A cost-benefit analysis
        J.William Hirzy et al
        Water fluoridation programs in the United States and other countries which have them use either sodium fluoride (NaF), hydrofluorosilicic acid (HFSA) or the sodium salt of that acid (NaSF), all technical grade chemicals to adjust the fluoride level in drinking water to about 0.7-1 mg/L. In this paper we estimate the comparative overall cost for U.S. society between using cheaper industrial grade HFSA as the principal fluoridating agent versus using more costly pharmaceutical grade (U.S. Pharmacopeia – USP) NaF. USP NaF is used in toothpaste. HFSA, a liquid, contains significant amounts of arsenic (As). HFSA and NaSF have been shown to leach lead (Pb) from water delivery plumbing, while NaF has been shown not to do so. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health-based drinking water standards for As and Pb are zero. Our focus was on comparing the social costs associated with the difference in numbers of cancer cases arising from As during use of HFSA as fluoridating agent versus substitution of USP grade NaF. We calculated the amount of As delivered to fluoridated water systems using each agent, and used EPA Unit Risk values for As to estimate the number of lung and bladder cancer cases associated with each. We used cost of cancer cases published by EPA to estimate cost of treating lung and bladder cancer cases.

      • If I had a dollar for every time some commenter to this blog told me that I should be embarrassed, I would have to consider it a paid position. In truth, I am not embarrassed by having the ability to spot the difference between causation and a rather flimsy correlation. I am not embarrassed for correctly identifying appeals to authority and strawmen arguments. I am not embarrassed for sticking to the subject.

        Let me simplify, as you seem far quicker to cut-and-paste than comprehension:

        Irrelevance

        Please point out where in the article above I suppose arsenic is beneficial? I cannot find it and indeed I don’t think it is. The point of the article is in relation to fluoride, not arsenic.

        The article you provide, regardless of what you think the position of the authors is, is about cost efficiency in relation to human health and the various fluoride compounds. They are NOT saying fluoride is bad and does not work. And so in relation to this article, it is irrelevant.

        Correlation

        Read your quotes again. You do not have quotes saying that the act of fluoridation of drinking water has resulted in higher rates of lung and bladder cancer. You have controlled laboratory results with arsenic, extrapolation and estimates. Arsenic is bad. Arsenic made be found in very small quantities within H2SiF6 etc. Therefore Fluoridation is bad.

        That’s not a strong argument.

        Where’s the evidence of higher rates of bladder and lung cancer in fluoridated areas than in non-fluoridated areas? That would be far more robust.

        The studies you rely upon want to find a problem and that’s why they don’t use real world evidence, but rather estimates.

        I’m not going to reply in turn that I think it is you whom should be embarrassed for your lazy and irrelevant rebuttal, illustrating that you don’t understand the science involved and, by your entire reliance on cut-and-paste authority, expectations that I would be as credulous as yourself. I have become only too aware of the general need to believe from the anti-fluoride advocate that they simply shut of higher reasoning whenever they think they have found the “final nail in the coffin”.

      • While I doubt it’ll make much of an impact on you, I actually wasted a couple hours of my life exploring your fantasy. Here in Australia, we’re lucky for a number of reasons… Queensland (Qld) provides us a fairly useful test group as fluoridation didn’t really take off there until the latter years of the the 2000′s, while most states had majority coverage for 20 to 30 years or more.

        Looking at the census data from 2006 and 2011 it’s possible to start to explore the potential influence of fluoridation practises in Aust on bladder and lung cancer. Here’s a pdf of my look. Please feel free to follow the link and repeat my look if you don’t trust me.

        I took the causes of death and the data on state population to find the percentage of deaths due to bladder and lung cancer. Sorry, using the Google spreadsheet, the graph legends didn’t include their names. However, the orange values are Qld. Again, check if you don’t trust me.

        As you will see (if you look at my results or waste the equivalent time) the date shows NO difference in rates of bladder or lung cancer in between Qld and the other states. In fact, Qld tends to be in the middle, or average, of the each test group.

        This is exactly my point. This is why they required estimates extrapolated from cells in a test tubes, because real world data simply doesn’t support the authors statement; “…mitigating the pain and suffering of citizens that result from use of the technical [industrial] grade fluoridating agents. Other countries, such as Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Australia that use technical grade fluoridating agents may realise similar benefits by making this change.”

        Where is the additional “pain and suffering”?

        Think for yourself, Dan, it’s very liberating.

      • You’ve gone quiet. Incidentally, I’ve extended that study I completed for you and written an article on it here.

  3. My response to Columbia Group’s opposition to Portland’s water fluoridation proposal:

    Dear Columbia Group Board,

    As a Sierra Club and Columbia Group member since I moved to Portland in 1979, I was dismayed to learn of your opposition to the fluoridation of Portland’s water. In the past, I have frequently relied on the group’s endorsements of candidates and ballot measures, on the assumption that they relied on sound data and analysis. Your opposition to Portland’s fluoridation proposal fails that standard. I don’t claim scientific expertise in water quality or dental health; only the critical skills and public spirit of an educated citizen.

    As you are no doubt aware, the Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorses fluoridation of water supplies. As their relevant web page states:
    For 65 years, community water fluoridation has been a safe and healthy way to effectively prevent tooth decay. CDC has recognized water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
    CDC backs this assessment up with a wealth of research covering this 65-year period. This position is reinforced by the support of the American Dental Association. Columbia Group’s press release in opposition fails utterly to address the well-established dental health benefits of fluoridation, or to refute the body of scientific evidence which support these benefits and their safety and efficacy, including environmental safety.

    Of course, it is possible that CDC, EPA and others could be in error. To refute their assessment of the benefits and safety of water fluoridation, you would need to reference a relevant body of peer-reviewed medical, dental, epidemiological and engineering studies demonstrating the errors of the evidence supporting fluoridation. Your press release of March 27, 2013 states:
    The Club made its decision based on long-term evidence of adverse health risks from fluoridation chemicals and the concern that fluoridation would introduce dangerous quantities of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into local rivers through sewage effluent.
    You offer no citation of “long-term evidence of adverse health risks”, nor do you state the scientific basis of your “concern that fluoridation would introduce dangerous quantities” of toxins to rivers. You should cite key evidence that substantiates these problems, and explain how they trump the evidence offered by CDC, EPA and other responsible bodies. Any claims of harm from fluoridation should cite studies of fluoride at the proposed concentration of less than one ppm. Your press release is riddled with similarly unfounded claims, and indeed, outright falsehoods, such as the statement that the fluoridation proposal will “pollute our water with fluorosilicic acid, an industrial waste”. My purpose here is not to refute your press release point-by-point, so I will let these examples suffice for now.

    Finally, the press release quotes Sheila Golden, “We can better serve Portland kids by increasing their access to dental care and prevention.” Great! What are the details of your plan, how much does it cost, and why is it better? How does it serve those who are not currently getting adequate dental care, such as people in poverty and dysfunctional household situations? What is Columbia Group’s history of advocating these measures, and how do you plan to address them going forward?

    Considering the lack of evidence to support your extraordinary claim of harm from Portland’s water fluoridation proposal, Columbia Group’s opposition is a violation of the trust of your members, indeed, of Portland voters. To earn our trust back, you must begin now to demonstrate honesty and diligence in your endorsements. An excellent start would be to rescind your opposition to Portland’s fluoridation prior to the May 21 election.

    Sincerely,
    [rsmpdx, Portland]

    • Great letter!

      It’s funny how three of the ten great achievements of the 20th century have their denialists; tobacco related illness, vaccination and fluoride. I wonder about the other seven…

      It’s a great point to refer to fluorosilicic acid as it rapidly breaks down in water. Unless they can demonstrate how the acid can remain intact in water, that argument is pure fiction.

      • “refer to fluorosilicic acid as it rapidly breaks down in water. Unless they can demonstrate how the acid can remain intact in water, that argument is pure fiction.”

        True, but there is much to unpack in “pollute our water with fluorosilicic acid, an industrial waste”. They are packing several misrepresentations into that short phrase: “pollute our water”, “fluorosilicic acid”, and “industrial waste”. All dreadfully scary-sounding, and all untrue. If you were to go through the whole press release with a fine-toothed comb, you would find dozens of such propagandistic insinuations, mis-statements, misleading arguments, etc. tangled cleverly in a web of fiction, possibly with an occasional strand of fact. The unwary could be bogged down for hours if you got sucked into trying to refute the web strand-by-strand. Which, of course, is the design.

        Still, the argument may come in handy. Do you have a reference or description of what happens to fluorosilicic acid when it is mixed with water? I assume it is analogous to the dissolution of other acids, such as sulfuric, hydrochloric, etc. into their component ions? (Pardon my limited chemistry.)

      • In the article above, I linked to a fluorosilicate pdf on National Toxicology Program website, which is now a dead link (cheers for inadvertently bringing that to my attention). On this page, they have details on the solubility. Finnery et al (2006) provide a more detailed analysis of what occurs with the breakdown on fluorosilicic acid.

        You’re right; it’s all about the wording. The “industrial waste” is one I’ve picked on previously. It’s irrational to say the least and screams of the Fluoride Alert group – which is troubling, to think that a highly respected environmental organisation would get their information from such an ideological group rather than respected organisations such as the US EPA, WHO and empirical scientific evidence.

  4. wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexafluorosilicic_acid): “Hexafluorosilicic acid refers to an equilibrium mixture with hexafluorosilicate anion (SiF6(2−)) in an aqueous solution or other solvents that contain strong proton donors[1] at low pH”, and “Aqueous solutions of H2SiF6 contain the hexafluorosilicate anion, SiF6(2−) and protonated water.” (Clumsy transcription of the ion formula.) SiF6 (2-) is described as an “octahedral anion”, which I assume remains intact in aqueous solutions, such as drinking water.

    • In Finnery et al (2006) they analyse what happens at various pH the there are more steps at lower pH – that is, in more acidic liquids. On that page, they have what happens in water;

      Near neutral pH, hexafluorosilicate salts hydrolyze rapidly according to this equation:
      SiF62- + 2 H2O → 6 F- + SiO2 + 4 H+

      That actually references Finner et al (2006). The solubility values in the previous link give you the amount which will dissolve per unit of water. Of course, they don’t use a lot to get to <1ppm so there's no chance of the water supply becoming saturated with fluorosilicate salts.

  5. Portland fluoridation measure has failed. Current vote count, no 69,303 (61%); yes 44,946 (39%). Fluoridation proponents have conceded. Case study in how not to run a pro-fluoridation campaign.

    • That’s a disgusting result, to be honest and one I can only shake my head over while the anti-fluoridation camp will be celebrating another victory for anti-science…

      It’s shameful how the Sierra Club could promote junk science propaganda when it’s real science that ought to be the bedrock of their work.

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