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U.S. Catches Up with Science On Fluoride in Drinking Water

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, January 7, 2011

Washington, D.C. – Since 2005, Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been pushing the federal government and municipal water utilities to reduce the levels of fluoride in drinking water to protect children from tooth enamel damage ("dental fluorosis") and other potential health problems. Today  those concerns have been heard.  The nation's top health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has announced plans to lower the agency's maximum recommended fluoride level from 1.2 milligrams per liter of water to 0.7.

"We've had to wait too long, but the government's announcement marks a belated recognition that many American children are at risk from excess fluoride in drinking water and other sources," said Jane Houlihan, EWG's senior vice president for research. "Since 2005, EWG has been calling on federal agencies to respond to these findings, which come from National Academy of Sciences and many others, documenting that excess fluoride exposure poses dangers that range from discolored teeth to potential hormone disruption and neurotoxicity. HHS has taken an important first step. Now it's up to water utilities to respond and for the EPA to lower its too-high legal limit on fluoride in drinking water, which is more than five times the new maximum being recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services."

Fluoride has been added to community drinking water supplies since the 1940s to help prevent tooth decay. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 184 million Americans – nearly 70 percent of the population – currently drink fluoridated water. Over-exposure to fluoride can be toxic, causing dental fluorosis (mottling and loss of tooth enamel) and skeletal fluorosis (joint pain, stiffness and bone fractures). Some studies point to a possible link between fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma  (bone cancer), neurotoxicity and disruption of thyroid function. Read more about fluoride and EWG's work on the issue here: http://www.ewg.org/featured/222

In 2007, the Municipal Water District of Los Angeles considered increasing the levels of fluoride in its drinking water. EWG pushed back and the utility reversed itself.

"The government is changing its mind after operating for decades under the assumption that the old recommended limit for fluoride in tap water was perfectly safe," Houlihan added. "This decision is another signal to the public to take care when it comes to exposures to industrial chemicals; what is considered safe today won't necessarily be thought safe tomorrow. New science usually reveals new risks and drives more protective standards, as we've seen today with the government's fluoride announcement."

NOTE: Jane Houlihan and others at EWG are available to speak with the media at any time. 202.667.6982

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org

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