Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Natural News: “If We Add Fluoride in Drinking Water, Why Not Arsenic?”

Anti-fluoridation stupidity.

Recently, Natural News writer Jennifer Lea Reynolds published a scientifically illiterate piece of pseudoscientific garbage entitled “Why don’t dentists promote adding ARSENIC to the water alongside FLUORIDE? They’re both ‘naturally occurring,’ after all”. Yes, it is that stupid. This post explains the benefits of water fluoridation, why we should not add arsenic in the drinking water, why arbitrary correlations do not demonstrate causation, why fluoride is the same regardless of the source and why water fluoridation is not mass medication.

The anti-fluoridation movement is a pseudoscientific movement that resembles and indeed regurgitates the same flawed debating methods as anti-vaccine and anti-GMO activists. This is a shame because there is at least some merit to the idea of specifically tailoring the amount of fluoride in the drinking water for different communities with different needs, but batshit anti-fluoridation activists make this discussion impossible to have.

What is water fluoridation and why is it used?

All water out in nature contain some level of fluoride. This is because it is leached out of the bedrock where it occurs e. g. in the form of calcium fluoride CaF2. The dental benefits of water fluoridation was first discovered studying areas where there was sufficient concentration of fluoride in the drinking water. Then some countries added fluoride in an optimal concentration to other kinds of drinking water that contain very little fluoride.

Water fluoridation is used because it works. Numerous studies (reviewed here and here) have shown that it reduces cavities by a considerable proportion and both the CDC and the WHO agrees that there is substantial evidence of efficacy, the latter even calling it “the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.”.

Why we should NOT add arsenic in drinking water

Believe it or not, the argument put forward by Reynolds is this:

If water fluoridation is fine, then why not the addition of naturally occurring arsenic, too?

The argument is not “fluoride is natural, therefore safe” (that is the staple argument of Natural News!). The argument is, instead, that the level of fluoride that occurs naturally in unpolluted areas has been shown to be safe and effective (that is how we discovered it in the first place) and the concentrations of fluoride used for water fluoridation is similar and therefore also safe and effective. Or put it more bluntly, if you are fine with drinking water from places where it occurs naturally at the same concentration, or fine with drinking tea even though that contains at least as much fluoride as drinking water, you should be alright with drinking fluoridated drinking water.

We should not add arsenic to the drinking water regardless of whether it occurs naturally in some forms of drinking water, because it has no clear medical benefit and it is harmful in even small concentrations.

This is a very simple explanation. Any reasonable person with the capacity to read and understand the text above should accept it. Yet Reynolds does not seem to grasp it at all. Perhaps she is being deceptive or merely astonishingly ignorant.

Basic chemistry: fluoride (F) is the same regardless of source

There’s a difference between naturally occurring fluoride and water to which fluoride is being deliberately added.

No, there is no such difference. This is because fluoride (F) is the same regardless of where it came from.

The latter presents a serious health hazard, and there’s nothing natural about it; when water is fluoridated, chemicals such as hydrofluorosilicic acid, sodium fluorosilicate and sodium fluoride are used. Translation: not natural, not good

Had Reynolds bothered to do any actual research on this issue, she would have found out that the reason that these particular fluoride minerals are used is because they are safe and cheap. This is just another case of cranks trying to emotionally manipulate people who think complicated names of chemical substances sound scary and therefore unsafe. This is often combined with the claim that they are “industrial waste” or similar, conjuring up mental imagery of radioactive nuclear waste killing people. But guess what? Pure water is also an “industrial waste product” (water is produced in many chemical reactions). What matters is not where it comes from, but whether or not it is safe.

The deployment of arbitrary and implausible correlations

For Reynolds, anti-water fluoridation quackery was not enough, so she added in some anti-psychiatry by confusing correlation with causation:

Consider that fact that a study published in Environmental Health found that just a “1% increase in artificial fluoridation prevalence in 1992 was associated with approximately 67,000 to 131,000 additional ADHD diagnoses from 2003 to 2011.

Here is a quick guide to make anything sound scary. Find a condition that appears to be on the rise (in this case it is likely due to broader clinical definitions as well as and increased awareness and attention) and then see if you can find an increase in something you do not like and claim that this correlation is proof of causation.

In a similar fashion, you can claim that a lack of pirates causes global warming as average global temperatures have increased while the number of pirates have dropped. Or that the alleged correlation between the supposed increase in the number of Wicca adherents and Firefox browser downloads is evidence that Firefox causes people to believe in paganism.

The study has almost no scientific value. It did not attempt to find alternative explanations or control for changes in clinical definitions or increased attention.

The dose makes the poison

Reynolds continues to list the alleged side-effects of fluoride, which she thinks includes:

[…] fatal arrhythmias, calcification of bones, build-up on teeth, skin corrosion, brain damage, thyroid dysfunction and much more.

The reference for this claim is a conspiracy website called TruthWiki and it talked about the consequences of ingesting “too much” hydrofluoric acid, which is a totally separate chemical compound. Why do pseudoscientific cranks hardly ever read their own references? As if the irony meter was not off the scales already, the reference for the hydrofluoric acid claims link to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report about deaths due to chelation therapy, including alternative medicine chelation therapy for a young boy with autism.

In the end, the toxic effects of fluoride depends on the dose. In extremely high doses, pretty much anything can be highly dangerous and even lethal.

Water fluoridation is not mass medication

Water fluoridation does not treat or cure anything. Therefore, it is not a medication. One wonders why anti-fluoridation activists are not against naturally occurring fluoride in water, fluoride in tea or chlorination of drinking water. By their faulty logic, this too should be “mass medication”.

5 responses to “Natural News: “If We Add Fluoride in Drinking Water, Why Not Arsenic?”

  1. CriticalDragon1177 January 23, 2016 at 01:40

    Emil Karlsson,

    Sounds like some people out there are in desperate need of an education. Too bad, few of them read skeptical blogs like this one.

    • Emil Karlsson January 23, 2016 at 02:43

      I sometimes wonder if education and information would help. Or if they would just reject stuff that contradicted their view and accept those few bits and pieces that in isolation might give the appearance of support.

    • CriticalDragon1177 January 23, 2016 at 04:27

      Emil Karlsson,

      It would make a difference if we taught them early enough. Also there are bound to be at least a few people who are simply uneducated and only believe some of this stuff because they just happened to come across someone preaching this nonsense, and than didn’t bother to check.

    • Emil Karlsson January 23, 2016 at 13:39

      Yeah, I think you are right to a certain extent. The individuals who are not aware about this issue or have not yet decided may be open for this kind of educational efforts. But how do we persuade those who are already moving towards pseudoscientific nonsense or for that matter have already become entrenched?

      I have been trying to look at cases were some individuals have been deeply entrenched in some particular form of pseudoscience, but then abandoned it for the scientific mainstream position and see if there is some commonality that we can refine and streamline. For instance, if someone is pro-vaccine but anti-GMO, one can point out the deep similarities between the two pseudosciences. But it is hard to find consistent and effective methods for convincing these kinds of individuals.

  2. Steve Slott January 23, 2016 at 14:13

    Emil, this is an excellent article. Thank you for properly researching the issue and posting these explanations.

    Antifluoridationists cannot be educated on the issue because their objections are not grounded in science or logic. They are grounded in the anti-government, anti-authority ideology that dates back to the objections of the John Birch Society at the very beginning of the initiative 70 years ago. The same arguments continue to be made now as then, simply repackaged and recycled for each new generation of antis. Thus, their opinions are not guided by science, their “science” is guided by their opinions. No matter how much valid scientific evidence is presented to them, they will contort it, and deny it in order to make it fit their ideology against fluoridation. When all else fails, as it inevitably always does, they will fall back onto their safety net of conspiracy nonsense in order to explain away the glaring facts that completely debunk their arguments.

    Probably the most telling fact about antifluoridationists is that the overwhelming majority, in all likelihood, freely consume and otherwise utilize fluoridated water. Binghamton, NY was recently recognized by the CDC for the fluoridation efforts of that community. The headquarters of the most prolific purveyor of fluoridation misinformation on the planet, the “Fluoride Action Network” is located in Binghamton. What are the odds that former “FAN” chief, Paul Connett, his family, and his staff do not drink or use their own tap water? Probably 0.00. If any sane person actually believed any of the mounds of hogwash regurgitated by antifluoridationists, he/she would not get within a mile of fluoridated water, much less freely consume it. They would collect rainwater if they had to do so. That antis do freely consume fluoridated water means that they are either stark raving mad, a distinct possibility, or that they don’t believe their nonsense any more than do intelligent people.

    The only way to deal with antifluoridationists is to properly educate everyone else, such that intelligent people who truly seek the facts will not mistake the junk of antifluoridationists as having any semblance of credibility.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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