Environmental Protection

Epstein Calls for FDA, EPA to Ban Uses of Fluoride

Cancer Prevention Coalition head offers up evidence that the chemical is linked to bone cancer in young boys.

Cancer Prevention Coalition Chair Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., said recently that "A ban by the FDA on fluoridated toothpaste is well overdue, as is a ban by the EPA on the fluoridation of drinking water."

Epstein said a ban would protect people against the risks of bone cancer from the use of fluoride in most toothpaste and from the fluoridation of drinking water.

In 1977, the National Academy of Sciences expressed concerns on the strong relation between the fluoridation of drinking water and risks of bone cancer to young boys, Epstein pointed out. And, a decade later, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reported that fluorides in drinking water induced bone cancer in rats. This finding was confirmed by the National Toxicology Program in its 1989, 1990, and 1991 reports.

"Not surprisingly, Procter & Gamble, the leading manufacturer of fluoridated toothpastes, denied that these results were statistically significant," Epstein said. "Surprisingly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supported this claim."

Evidence for the bone cancer link comes from studies and reports from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the New Jersey Department of Health, and Harvard University. In 1990, the NCI reported that, based on an analysis of 1973 to 1987 data, the incidence of a bone cancer, known as osteosarcoma, was increased in males under the age of 20 living in areas where the drinking water was fluoridated. In 1992, the New Jersey Department of Health published a study confirming higher rates of bone cancer in young boys living in fluoridated versus non-fluoridated areas of the state. And in 1993, an independent analysis of the 1990 NCI data confirmed excess risks and deaths from bone cancer in young boys exposed to fluoride. These findings were confirmed in a 2001 report by the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. In 2006, a Harvard University team of scientists published a study reporting a five-fold increased risk of bone cancer in teenage boys who had drunk fluoridated water between the ages of 6 and 8. Apart from exposure to fluoride in drinking water, these finding also incriminated fluoride commonly added to toothpaste.

"Concerns on fluoride as a major avoidable cause of bone cancer are further and urgently validated by its unrecognized 20 percent increased incidence in children under the age of 15 over the last three decades," Epstein said, "as documented in the 1975-2007 National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results report."

On Jan. 7, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced steps to ensure that standards and guidelines on fluoride in drinking water continue to provide the maximum protection to support good dental health, especially in children. HHS is proposing that the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water can be set at the lowest end of the current optimal range to prevent tooth decay, and EPA is initiating review of the maximum amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water.

Epstein is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.

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