Tom Jacobus has been the general manager of the Washington Aqueduct since 1994. As we finished up our phone discussion yesterday, he laughed at my having referenced the communist plot accusations from Dr. Strangelove regarding fluoride in the water. “If it is a communist plot, it’s not working,” he said. In this correspondence, he didn’t care to elaborate on his personal views of mass-drugging, but he simply said on the phone that if he had some serious personal problem with it, he would have put in his resignation long ago.
The aqueduct’s use of fluoride, he revealed, is the product of a political consensus forged in D.C., Arlington and Falls Church, where the city councils and mayors have all acquiesced to the practice.
I’ve decided to keep this article the color of water. The following is my correspondence with the man who puts fluoride in the water of America’s decision-makers, preceded first by this film from the Fluoride Action Network:
Tyler Bass: “Mr. Jacobus, I do appreciate your willingness to discuss with me the nature of water fluoridation and your take on its effectiveness, if any. I should probably disclose my personal lack of expertise in neurology, orthopedics or endocrinology. The reason that I write for Disinfo.com is because of my interest and penchant for understanding the social dynamics surrounding conspiracy theories, those ludicrous and otherwise. Some medical authorities have asserted dangers in fluoridating water. And some groups for political reasons, particularly during the heart of the Cold War, have gone so far as to assert that water fluoridation constitutes a Communist plot. (To cite an extreme example of lampoon, you may remember the demented general from “Dr. Strangelove” who humorously, bizarrely claimed that Communists are incapable of drinking water, only vodka!) On the matter of fluoridation’s necessity, I confess my agnosticism. However, I would like to present the readers at Disinfo.com with your views at least in contrast to the most public contemporary points of opposition. I’ve tried to leave my questions below fairly open-ended.
I wouldn’t mind if you responded to the claims of a Steven Levy, director of the Iowa Fluoride Study, as quoted in the Reuters article below. His tracked about 700 Iowa children for sixteen years. He claimed nine-year-old “Iowa children who lived in communities where the water was fluoridated were 50 percent more likely to have mild fluorosis . . . than [nine-year-old] children living in nonfluoridated areas of the state,” writes Fagin.” The report continues, “Levy will study fluoride’s effects on their bones.”
Is this raw hysteria or something else? Is Levy’s concern likely to be attributable to fluoride quantities out of proportion to that being put into D.C.’s water supply?
A Mr. Cohen and a Mr. Locker contend that water fluoridation poses a quandary placing personal autonomy and social equity in opposition. For example, although individuals could simply add flouride to their private water supply, the poor might miss out on the benefits of flouridation. My questions here relate to these supposedly contrasting principles. How beneficial and/or financially inaccessible does a drug like fluoride have to be to rationalize adding it to the entirety of the supply of water, a commodity universally acknowledged as vital to life?
Also, is there any validity to their suggestion that the toll of not having enough fluoride is easily detectable beforehand, or that its benefits are essentially tantamount to having an overbite?
This Reuters document, among other things, is a succinct round-up of the relatively informed opponents of water fluoridation in the United States, including 11 Environmental Protection Agency unions. Do you perceive any possible ulterior commercial or ideological motive for these opponents?
The physicians in question are concerned about the likelihood of fluoride’s link to osteosarcoma.
Do you believe that D.C.’s current fluoride level are possibly furthering an unnecessary risk to individuals? I would appreciate any possible, technical elaboration you may have on this point.
This report evidences that Elise Bassin’s study indicting fluoride for osteosarcoma is likely the most high-profile. Have you read this study? Do you believe it to have any credibility? If you have read it, why or why not?
These links appear to summarize the most well-known, contemporary complaints about water fluoridation. If you would prefer to answer these questions in writing, that is quite acceptable. However, I would be happy to take your answers over the phone tomorrow morning, if that is what you would prefer.
Thank you so much for taking the time to clear up disinformation.”
I thought it might be helpful if I forwarded you some information in response to your inquiry.
Water treatment plants all operate under the direction of federal and state drinking water regulators.
Washington Aqueduct is directly regulated by US EPA Region 3 because the District of Columbia where our treatment plants are located does not have primacy under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
We provide wholesale water service to the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, Arlington County, Virginia and the City of Falls Church’s service area in Virginia.
Fluoride is different from all other regulated compounds in the water.
There is a Maximum Contaminant Limit specified by EPA (4 mg/L), but it is the only “optional” chemical among those regulated by EPA.
I’ve attached a photo that was reprinted in the Washingtonian Magazine a few years ago in an issue relating to the progress and growth of DC as captured in photographs.
It was June 1952 that Washington Aqueduct began the fluoridation process. It was done at the request of our customers, and as the caption notes there was then as there is now concern by some that there was some element of loss of discretion by individuals over what was added to the water.
In the intervening 58 years we have continued to use fluoride, dosing it so that we achieve about 0.9 mg/L in the finished water (i.e., the water delivered to customer taps). That dose conforms with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control.
Our wholesale customers have not asked for any change in the policy to add fluoride to achieve this concentration, and the fact that fluoride at this concentration is in the drinking water is published in the annual drinking water Consumer Confidence Reports that go to each retail customer.
A question that comes up from time to time has to do with the impurities in the product that we use to introduce fluoride. We, along with most utilities, use fluorosilicic acid. That is produced as a byproduct of the fertilizer industry, specifically in the mining of phosphate. We get a detailed report with each shipment showing the impurities, and the ones that draw attention are lead and arsenic. But these elements, while measurable in the product when delivered, are not detectable because of the great dilution in the finished water. So while it is important to know what impurities may be introduced in any chemical we add during water treatment (e.g., aluminum sulfate for coagulation; chlorine or sodium hypochlorite for disinfection; lime for pH control, orthophosphate for corrosion control, and various polymers to aid in effective treatment), we are completely confident that these trace impurities do not affect the safety of the drinking water.
Dentists call sometimes to review with us the fluoride concentration leaving the treatment plants, and while they individually may have views on whether or not the water utility should be putting fluoride in the water, we do not debate that with them.
And this gets me back to what you have asked me to comment on.
I cannot comment on social equity or the ethics of fluoridation. We do it because the retail utilities we serve want us to continue using it.
I believe that the information we provide our wholesale customers and their governing bodies and the information the public has available has put the practice of fluoridation of Washington Aqueduct water in full view.
We work diligently to ensure that the water leaving the treatment plants meets or is better than the requirements of US EPA and recommendations of CDC. And we do that very well and we report our compliance to EPA. As a utility we have no disagreement with the current standards and as new standards are developed for any substance we always work with EPA and our customers to make sure that Washington Aqueduct is prepared to always provide safe water.
We are currently engaged in what we term our “future treatment study.” That work is designed to look at emerging prevalence of pathogens (e.g., Cryptosporidium) or the effects of endocrine disrupting compounds (e.g., atrazine), and any effects of pharmaceuticals — and then to create the most efficient treatment processes to overcome them. Changes in the fluoridation practice is not under consideration as part of this study.
I have attached a link to one other document that you may find interesting. It’s from Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin. Madison and the state university there has a very strong reputation for water treatment science.