National Research Council Questions Safety of Fluoride MCL

A National Research Council (NRC) committee has reported that the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for the maximum amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water - 4 milligrams per liter ...

A National Research Council (NRC) committee has reported that the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for the maximum amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water - 4 milligrams per liter - does not protect against adverse health effects.

NRC said data show that just over 200,000 Americans have drinking water sources containing fluoride levels at 4 mg/L or higher. The committee concluded that children exposed to the 4 mg concentration risk developing severe tooth enamel fluorosis, a condition characterized by discoloration, enamel loss, and pitting of the teeth.

A majority of the committee also concluded that people who consume water containing that much fluoride over a lifetime are likely at increased risk for bone fractures.

The NRC report did not examine the health risks or benefits of the artificially fluoridated water that millions of Americans drink, which contains 0.7 to 1.2 mg/L of fluoride. Although many municipalities add fluoride to drinking water for dental health purposes, certain communities’ water supplies or individual wells contain higher amounts of naturally occurring fluoride. Industrial pollution can also contribute to fluoride levels in water.

Because high amounts of fluoride can be toxic, EPA set the 4 mg/L maximum and a “secondary” level of 2 mg/L to protect against cosmetic dental effects linked to excess fluoride consumption. About 1.4 million people have water with 2 mg/L of fluoride, NRC said.

EPA had requested the NRC review, a follow up on a 1993 report that found the agency’s maximum contaminant level for fluoride to be an appropriate interim standard until further research was completed.

The report said about 10% of children in communities with water fluoride concentrations at or near 4 mg/L develop severe tooth enamel fluorosis. Earlier studies indicate that up to 15% of children in communities with 2 mg/L have moderate tooth enamel fluorosis.

The majority of the NRC committee concluded there was an increased risk of bone fracture in populations exposed to fluoride concentrations in water of 4 mg/L or higher. There was insufficient data for the committee to reach any conclusions about fracture risk at the 2 mg/L level.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) noted that community fluoridated water typically contains between 0.7 mg/L and 1.2 mg/L of fluoride, far less than levels examined by the NRC.

Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director, said, “AWWA, along with the American Dental Association and the U.S. Public Health Service, continues to support fluoridation of water supplies in a safe, effective, and reliable manner that includes adequate monitoring and control of fluoride levels.”

Separately, a Harvard University study said boys who drink water with levels of fluoride considered safe by federal guidelines are five times more likely to have a rare bone cancer than boys who drink unfluoridated water.

The study, led by Dr. Elise Bassin and published in Cancer Causes and Control, the official journal of the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention, found a strong link between fluoridated drinking water and osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal bone cancer, in boys.

The authors said the study confirms studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the New Jersey health department that also found increased rates of bone cancer in boys who drank fluoridated tap water.

Senate Measure Calls For Infrastructure Commission

Three senators have filed a bill to create a National Infrastructure Commission to address the deteriorating conditions of the nation’s drinking water systems, roads, bridges and other public works.

The bill by Senators George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Thomas Carper (D-Del.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) would have the commission study infrastructure conditions and recommend federal priorities in three years.

Voinovich said, “The deterioration of our nation’s waterways and infrastructure systems are impacting our economy, the environment, and the welfare of the American people.” He said the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support the bill.

In three years, the commission would recommend infrastructure and detail infrastructure legislation deemed necessary for the next five, 15, 30 and 50 years.

The commission’s study would include capacity, age and condition of public infrastructure; repair and maintenance needs; financing methods and investment requirements. Recommendations on federal infrastructure program priorities must be included as well.

The legislation defines infrastructure as nonmilitary facilities including water supply and distribution systems, wastewater collection and treatment facilities, surface transportation facilities, mass-transit facilities, airports or airway facilities, resource recovery facilities, waterways, levees and related flood-control facilities, docks or ports, school buildings, and solid-waste disposal facilities.

The legislation, referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is believed to have little chance of passage due to the declining number of legislative work days remaining this session.

AWWA endorsed the legislation, saying that the US water and wastewater infrastructure will continue to serve the nation well for years, but steps must be taken to prevent its deterioration.

NRDC Attacks EPA Affordability Plan

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has charged that an EPA proposal would allow unsafe levels of contaminants in the drinking water of more than 50 million rural residents.

NRDC said EPA’s “drinking water affordability methodology” proposal, published in the March 2 Federal Register, would allow tap water containing three or more times the contamination currently allowed under the agency’s health standards for communities with fewer than 10,000 people. More than 94% of the drinking water systems in the country could qualify for waivers of federal standards for toxic contaminants under the new policy.

NRDC said the “water affordability” proposal would allow higher contamination levels if cleaning up the toxic contamination of tap water were deemed “unaffordable” -- which the proposal defines as a cost to utilities of as little as $8.33 per household per month (0.25% of Median Household Income).

Erik Olson, an NRDC attorney, said, “This sure looks like an effort to quietly end-run Congress and the public’s demand for safe drinking water.”

NRDC said the EPA action is contrary to the advice of its own advisory committee, which in 2003 recommended that waivers of federal tap water standards should be allowed in very limited circumstances, and only when the cost of complying with the standard exceeds 1% of Median Household Income (about $33 per month). The panel also recommended that EPA and states take other actions to help small water systems meet the standard.

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