Osteosarcoma Rates in Australia: Is Fluoridation Doing Us Harm?

An excellent example of the anti-fluoride culture
An excellent example of the anti-fluoride culture

Prior to this article, I must include an increasingly common disclaimer. I do so because my experiences thus far with the anti-fluoridation crusaders has taught me two things; 1) such individuals are quick to assume secret agenda, and, 2) their blinkers are set to a hair-trigger in the face of alternative and more robust theories than their favoured perception. If I don’t say on the starting line that I do not care which way this story of fluoridation falls, I just want the best for my children and that I base this on the best available information, I know full well that there is no way any of them will actually finish reading this before spilling their bile and personal attacks in the comment section below. As much as I detest having to waste close to two hundred words before even starting with the article, hopefully the odd anti-fluoridation crusader may venture long enough for a little of this reasoned argument to sink in.

That said, I am still pursued by such individuals regarding Bassin et al. (2006), stating that their study was suppressed (in a openly available journal, no less) and that Chester Douglass attempted to cover up the story; all with the hallmarks of a classic conspiracy theory. In The Washington Post, I found an excellent summery of this story, written by Juliet Eilperin.

One thing struck me as odd about this article beyond pointing out yet again that the results could not be replicated and the authors themselves point out a number of potential limitations and biases that existed within the approach, as discussed in Bassin et al (2006). Eilperin writes in contradiction herself with the following; “…osteosarcoma, a rare but lethal form of cancer…”

Now, surely if it is such a rare cancer it should be easy to identify a marked increase in such rates within communities, which we could then compare against exposure to fluoridated water.

In this article, I propose to do just that.

Firstly, I took the age standardised (world) incidence rates (per 100,000) of osteosarcoma for Australian states, where the data existed from WHO’s, Cancer Incidence in Five Continents Vol. IX. These values are based on estimated rates in 2000.

I also acquired information from the Queensland Health Systems Review (2005) on Australian population access to fluoridated water as of 2003.

fluorideexposure

From the latter, we find that Queensland had less than 5% cover as of 2003 (unlikely to have been higher in 2000), while New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory all had, 90%, 80%, 77%, 86% and 100% access to fluoridated water respectively, dating back (for the capitals of each state) as far back as 1964 (Canberra, ACT) but no more recent than 1977 (Melbourne, Vic). With communities exposed to fluoridated water for more than 30 years, one would expect some obvious trends in the standardised rates of osteosarcoma to appear within these sub-populations.

Here’s what I found;

osteosarcoma rates

In each group, the rates are very small. With the ACT with 100% exposure to fluoridated water for more than 45 years, the standardised rate osteosarcoma was no higher – in fact it was lower – than that of Qld which, by 2000, less than 5% of the population had access to fluoridated water.

This reminds me a little of my previous artilce, where I looked at access to fluoridated water to see if it was effecting IQ and in turn, student performance and found only the opposite (while, obviously, I do not suppose a relationship).

So, if there is genuine concern about the potential for developing osteosarcoma due to access to fluoridated water when it is administered to WHO standards, as is done within Australia, why does this not show up in the statistics?

I’ve used no statistical trickery above, only presented the basic information and can simply find nothing that resembles the relationship suggested by the anti-fluoridation crusaders. It is simply like every other claim made by people like Merilyn Haines.

Take her suggestion that the 2007 NSW dental health survey shows that as much as 25% of children had dental fluorosis, which would be detrimental to their self-esteem. Yet the report itself states, “More than 97% of 8 to 12 year old children do not display any discernible signs of fluorosis,” so the additional 22% is sought out in stats where fluorosis is otherwise indiscernible… Hardly effecting self-esteem.

Another claim is the hype over trace amounts of lead within the fluoridation formula, which makes up about 0.6% of the actual mix added to water and when diluted reaches homeopathy grade at 6 parts per billion.

To reiterate my disclaimer above; I really hold no sides here. My field of research covers analytical chemistry, but of the atmosphere. It has in the past, covered human health, but again only in regards to air quality. I only care about quality information and accuracy of science behind the health of my children. I simply cannot support the claims made by groups, such as The Queenslanders for Safe Water, Food and Air and people like Merilyn Haines. Each time I take their claims seriously and look into them myself, I find them weak at best, but more often inflated, exaggerated or simply wrong.

We deserve better than that and should not take claims at face value. For that reason, I always include all data sources and go back to the primary studies where possible, quite unlike such people. NewAnthro would be dull place if others would simply adhere to the same level of quality control rather that fall prey to conspiracy ideation.

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See my full list of articles on water fluoridation here.

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