In the mid-20th century, a seemingly harmless solution was proposed to tackle the hazardous and expensive disposal issue of fluoride byproducts from aluminum and fertilizer manufacturing: add it to the public water supply. Little did the public know that this seemingly altruistic measure was driven by corporate greed and public relations campaigns. This blog delves into the intricate history of fluoride, uncovering a narrative where giant corporations' waste disposal problem became a public health concern.
Origins in Industrial Byproducts: The story begins with the surge in aluminum production, leading to an environmental conundrum for companies like the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). Faced with the challenge of paying expensive fees to dispose of or by dumping fluoride byproducts harming the environment, ALCOA's chief scientist, Francis Frary, proposed a unique solution: studying the benefits of adding fluoride to the water supply.
Studies conducted by organizations with ties to these industries, including the Mellon Institute, reported fluoride as safe and beneficial for dental health.
The PR Campaign: Enter Edward Bernays, the "Father of Spin," who orchestrated a formidable public relations campaign like those he designed for cancer-causing tobacco companies. Bernays played a pivotal role in shaping public opinion, portraying fluoride as a dental health savior. However, underlying this campaign was a corporate-driven agenda, where aluminum and fertilizer manufacturers' greed took precedence over public health.
Health Concerns and Opposition: Not everyone was convinced of the purported benefits. Health professionals, led by Dr. George Walbott, raised alarms about fluoride's health impacts, including allergic reactions. Despite rigorous testing and publication of research papers, these concerns were often marginalized, and overshadowed by influential PR machinery.
Current Fluoridation Chemicals: Today, hydrofluorosilicic acid, a byproduct of the phosphate fertilizer industry, is the primary fluoride chemical used in water treatment. This transition addressed the disposal problem for fertilizer plants and proved economically advantageous for cities. However, critics highlight the lack of extensive studies by regulatory agencies on the health effects of long-term fluorosilicic acid ingestion.
Fluoride from Fertilizer Production: Fluoride in our water traces its roots back to phosphate fertilizer manufacturing. Fluorosilicic acid, a byproduct of treating phosphate rock with sulfuric acid, has found a new home in public water systems. Questions arise about the wisdom of using an industrial byproduct in a essential substance like drinking water.
Concerns About Silicofluorides: Research suggests a link between water treated with silicofluorides and increased lead uptake in children, among other health concerns. This has sparked calls for a reevaluation of silicofluorides use in our public water supply.
Excessive fluoride intake over time has adverse effects on various body tissues, including teeth (dental fluorosis), bones (skeletal fluorosis), and soft tissues (non-skeletal fluorosis) (Dubey et al., 2018).
Fluoride in our water history is a tapestry woven with threads of corporate greed, public relations campaigns, and genuine health concerns. As we continue to debate the implications of this practice, it is crucial to remain informed and vigilant about what flows from our taps, understanding that the story of fluoride extends beyond dental health to reveal a complex narrative of industry, influence, and public health.
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Sato, A., Gonmori, K., & Yoshioka, N. (1999). A case of fatal intoxication with ammonium sulfate and a toxicological study using rabbits. Forensic science international, 101(2), 141–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0379-0738(99)00014-6
Peckham, S., & Awofeso, N. (2014). Water fluoridation: a critical review of the physiological effects of ingested fluoride as a public health intervention. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2014, 293019. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/293019