Dental groups urged HHS officials to bury report that threatened water fluoridation.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) research agency was due to release a landmark report into the cognitive and neurodevelopmental impacts on humans from fluoride exposure. The report had been eagerly anticipated, and for several reasons, not least of which it was thought to contain vital data that proved a link between fluoridated water and cognitive harm in children.
Water fluoridation is the long-running U.S. public health policy of adding fluoride to drinking water to fight tooth decay. However, it has been long thought by some that fluoridation of drinking water has marginal benefit to teeth, and carries a risk of causing brain abnormalities in children. The report was set to play a 'key role' in an ongoing lawsuit, filed by government accountability organisation: Food & Water Watch, with the judge putting the lawsuit on hold until the report's release.
But before the NTP could release the report, "They were blocked." according to Linda Birnbaum, NTP director until 2019. According to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records obtained by the plaintiffs and shared with Capital & Main, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) held back the release of the report after criticism of its findings from health and dental organisations that advocate for community water fluoridation.
The groups challenged the report's 'scientific validity' maintaining that it could jeopardise the water fluoridation programme, which they claim could especially impact the dental health of low income communities.
The report found a possible link to cognitive harm at just two times the current recommended water fluoridation level, according to reports. The report states that a link between typical levels of fluoride added to water and possible harm to brain development was unclear and that further studies were needed.
Some health experts believe these finding makes current water fluoridation levels potentially unsafe and pose a danger to developing fetuses and young children. Many common foods and drinks contain fluoride, consuming them along with fluoridated water could amount to harmful exposure levels, these experts say.
Water fluoridation is described as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century for its part in reducing tooth decay in adults and children by roughly 25%. According to the latest figures, nearly 73% of people connected with community water systems receive fluoridated water, accounting for more than 200 million people, or just under two-thirds of the overall U.S. population. Advocates argue that fluoridation is especially needed in low income communities where rates of tooth decay are generally higher than in wealthier neighborhoods.
This is the accepted scientific thinking but for decades opponents have pointed to their being a huge amount of risk involved in the artificially adding of fluoride to drinking water. Research linking fluoride exposure to neurotoxicological impacts in humans, including IQ loss and a higher prevalence of ADHD in children dating back decades.
The NTP has been working since 2016 on its systematic review of the science into these impacts. By the time the report was set for release last May, it had already undergone more rounds of peer review than is typically the case for such a document, court records show — twice with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), and external peer review by five experts in the field. According to Birnbaum, similar reports are typically sent out for public comment, peer reviewed by an on-site panel, then finalised by the NTP.
The report's critics feared its findings could erode public trust in water fluoridation, with the head of one leading dental research organisation calling it "potentially very bad fluoride news."
The American Fluoridation Society President Johnny Johnson wrote an open letter to "Oral Health Advocates and Public Health Leaders" warning how the NTP's findings were already causing public health officials to second guess their stance on community water fluoridation (CWF).
The truth looked likely to get out and that would have irreparably damaged the fluoride industry. Dental groups began to put pressure on officials not to release the report whilst employing their own scientists (read: Spin doctors) to trash the report.
An email to various senior health officials including HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, ADA senior manager for strategic advocacy and public policy Robert Burns asked the NTP to "exclude — or carefully consider how to characterize — any lingering neurotoxin claims" from the upcoming report. He wrote that "such claims are often taken out of context," and might "undermine national, state, and local efforts to expand community water fluoridation" at the CDC's recommended levels.
Soon after the report went back for yet another round of peer reviews. Every time it does reports suggest the findings are played down even more. This is always at the request of the Dental Groups who appear not to care about the findings and the risks to children.
The report no appears to have disappeared off the release schedule entirely, reportedly at the command of Lavine himself. No date for the report's release is now forthcoming, stuck in an eternal loop of peer reviews.