Grand Rapids, Mich. has become the most recent city to question the practice of fluoridating public water, as part of a growing tendency for local governments to question the use of many chemicals that formerly been taken for granted.
“I think this pattern has been growing because there is better environmental health research that draws connections between low levels of chemical exposure and changes in our bodies,” said Dr. Howard Hu of the University of Michigan. “As the research has become more sophisticated, it shows that environmental toxicants can do other things beyond just kill you: they can stunt your growth, change behavior and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Grand Rapids was the first city in the world to fluoride its public water supply, based on assurances from the government that the chemical reduces the risk of tooth decay while posing no serious risks. But based on a number of studies linking fluoride to problems with the thyroid, kidneys, central nervous system and skeletal system – including cancers – the city’s director of environmental sustainability, Corky Overmyer, has ordered a new review of the scientific evidence concerning the risks and benefits of the chemical.
“This has been on my radar screen for a while,” Overmyer said.
Overmyer says that while he has not drawn any conclusions about the safety fluoride, the scientific evidence gave him reason enough for concern. Having already gotten chlorine removed from the city’s water supply several years ago, Overmyer did not expect the vicious backlash that developed to his questioning of fluoride. From large medical associations to the mayor and even his own dentist, Overmyer’s decision has drawn fierce criticism.
“I had no idea [fluoride] was that sensitive an issue,” Overymyer said.
Fluoridation opponents have cheered the news, however, confident that the scientific evidence will speak for itself.
“If Grand Rapids falls, that could be the beginning of the end of fluoride,” said Paul Connett, director of the Fluoride Action Network.