Yesterday, Cork County Council recommended by a “huge majority” to stop the use of fluoride compounds in public water supplies. Under pressure from the council, the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, has agreed to appoint a group of international experts to review the fluoridation of Ireland’s drinking water.

Water fluoridation was introduced in Ireland in the 1960’s to reduce dental cavities, after other countries had reported significant success in their own fluoridation programmes. Fluoride compound ingestion does have side-effects, so the issue has always been about establishing the correct dosage for safe use. Currently, the recommended dosage in Ireland is 0.8 ppm, which is substantially lower than the US Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum safe dosage of 4 ppm. The only established side effect of fluoridation at low levels is dental fluorosis – a temporary discolouration or mottling or teeth that is mainly observed in children. To date, and despite extensive study across the globe, no major health organisation has been able to establish a link between fluoridation and any other health impacts. The conclusion is that, so long as the levels are below international safe guidelines, it’s safe to drink the water.

That’s not the conclusion our esteemed councillors appear to have reached. From listening to their soundbites, you would be lead to believe that we are in the middle of a major public health disaster.

 “Some of the countries we are exporting food to are now calling into question the use of fluoride in our food products and this would be very detrimental to the food industry.”

Cllr Adrian Healy, FG

 “It contravenes the EU Convention on Human Rights. Nearly all countries in the EU have stopped it.”

Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan, FF

This is “Dr. Strangelove” territory.

The inspiration for all this scaremongering is a highly organised campaign group in West Cork, running under “The Girl Against Fluoride” (TGAF) banner. They are running an energetic and effective campaign, with a large support base. They have successfully grabbed the ear of anyone who will listen, including plenty of local politicians.

However, running a slick campaign and determining public health policy based on the best scientific facts are two totally different things. TGAF cherry picks data from wherever they can find it, linking current levels water fluoridation to thyroid problems, lowered IQ, cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis, cancer and kidney disease. If only the peer reviewed literature supported them! For example, a Harvard study quoted by them on lowered IQ is based on excessive amounts of fluoride in China, and not on the minimal amounts in Irish water supplies.

As if to lend credibility to their campaign, TGAF are supportive of notorious quacks such as Joseph Mercola and Stanislaw Burzynski, of which much else could be written. If the science is against them, then clearly their opponents are on the take, stooges of Big Fluora, or sheeple who have not yet woken up to the truth. The message is that scientists and public health advisors are working against the people and that they know better – classic conspiracy thinking. If they reach their goal of making Irish water fluoride free, one wonders what their next target will be? Childhood vaccines, perhaps? Antibiotics, maybe?

If public health experts conclude that water fluoridation is no longer required in Ireland based on the success of other measures, then I have no problem with this. The problem here is how the fluoride debate is being pushed – primarily via scaremongering and bluster – from an organisation that prefers emotion and fear over rational analysis.

The developments in Cork County Council yesterday indicate that anti-scientific and conspiratorial thinking is making strong inroads into public debate and that all you need to overturn good public health policy is a highly motivated campaign group. This is not a good portent for the future.


For more on this I recommend you read David Robert Grimes’s excellent blog post on the same subject.  Also, please look at Gerry Byrne’s “Inside the mind of an anti-fluoridationist”