Onehunga and the “fluoride-free” myth

Onehunga Aquifer optimised

An aerial view of the Onehunga Water Treatment Plant

Recently I discussed the fluoridation issue with a self-diagnosed sufferer from fluoride sensitivity. He claimed to have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) brought on by fluoride in drinking water. His doctor didn’t believe him but he knew better – every time he left his hometown (which is unfluoridated) for fluoridated areas his IBS returned. He assured me that the water in his city is “fluoride-free.”

I checked the published data for his city and found the natural levels of fluoride in the tap water is 0.4 ppm – not too much less than the recommended 0.7 ppm where community water fluoridation is used. He didn’t respond to my comment passing on this information – maybe it brought on an attack of IBS as stress is one of the known factors causing this.

This issue came up again at a recent Auckland City Council meeting which considered a request for fluoridation of the Onehunga water supply. Unlike most of Auckland Onehunga’s water is pumped from the Onehunga springs and is not fluoridated. In fact, a referendum in 2001 voted against a proposal to fluoridate.

But what struck me is the argument presented by one councillor that some resident of Onehunga moved there because the water is “fluoride-free” and it would violate their rights if the water supply is now fluoridated. That seems a very poor argument as anyone with a hangup about fluoride can buy and use a cheap water filter – far cheaper than shifting house. But the claim that Onehunga’s water is “fluoride-free” motivated me to check out the published data for fluoride in the Onehunga water.

This graph summarises the data from reports covering the years 2010 – 2014 (a single report covered 2011-2012):
Onehunga

So, Onehunga water is not “fluoride-free.” The average concentration is about 0.2 ppm (not too unusual for ground-water sources in New Zealand) but the actual concentrations can vary a lot. Customers would have occasionally been drinking water with a concentration as high as 0.9 or 1.1 ppm F during that time period.

Surely this would occasionally send any fluoride sensitive person into a bout of IBS, skin rash, or one of the myriads of other symptoms propagandists against community water fluoridation claim. Or perhaps only if they had been told about the high concentrations (see Fluoride sensitivity – all in the mind?).

Fluorine is the 13th most common element in the earth’s crust so it is inevitable that our food and drink contain traces derived from natural sources. In the real world, there is no such thing as “fluoride-free.”


Note: I don’t know if such variation is common with underground freshwater sources. The Onehunga aquifer  derives from rainwater soaking through lava flows around One Tree Hill. It could well be prone influences from historical industrial or other sources in the locality. Apparently it has high nitrogen levels and may also be influenced by broken sewer pipes.

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19 responses to “Onehunga and the “fluoride-free” myth

  1. There was a (long time) super phosphate plant in Onehunga. All rock phosphate contains fluoride at differing levels depending upon the source of the rock phosphate. Most NZ rock phosphate has come from Naru that has a low fluoride level. However in WW2 a NZ strategic supply of rock phosphate was established in Onehunga and as Naru was behind Japanese lines the source was Florida which has some of the highest fluoride contamination of any rock phosphate in the world. A large pile of this material sat at the plant site (over the aquifer) until the early 1990s when it was progressively removed as the plant was closed. It is not at all surprising that the Onehunga groundwater contains variable fluoride levels.

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  2. Yes, I had heard that Roger. Although I understand this plant and pile were not in an area from which the water was collected.

    Mind you, things might not be that simple underground and fertiliser would be a logical source.

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  3. For which city did you find the natural levels of fluoride in the tap water at 0.4 ppm?

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  4. Find stuff like this fascinating. However was surprised by your comment that a cheap water filter would take out the fluoride. My understanding was that fluoride was difficult to remove from water. And that filtration didn’t remove it. Not sure about distillers, or how you actually remove it.

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  5. That argument, David, relies on the fact that a common activated charcoal-based filter usually used to remove chlorine and organic flavours is not efficient at removing F. But an equally cheap activated alumina or anion exchange filter will work. F is strongly absorbed by alumina and of course easily removed by normal anion exchange reactions. In NZ they sell for about $250.

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  6. According to the Floride Free NZ website (see: http://fluoridefree.org.nz/information/resources/fluoride-free-water/) where they did a test on the effectiveness of the filters (I have changed the format of their table so that it is easier to be read here):

    ******************************************************************************************
    * In some people’s opinions these filtration systems do not remove fluoride reliably, so Fluoride Free NZ has recently tested some of these options in May 2013 and received quite shocking results:

    Tested Fluoride Samples
    ======================================================
    no | 1
    Fluoride detected | 0.86 ppm
    Fluoride removed | 20% reduction
    Fluoride removal system | Special Carbon filter
    age of system/ filter | new filter
    price of system/ filter | $150 filter

    no | 2
    Fluoride detected | 1.07 ppm
    Fluoride removed | almost no reduction
    Fluoride removal system | Activated alumina filter
    age of system/ filter | 6 months old
    price of system/ filter | $350 filter

    no | 3
    Fluoride detected | 0.06 ppm
    Fluoride removed | only removes 94%
    Fluoride removal system | Reverse osmosis filter system
    age of system/ filter | N/A
    price of system/ filter | (upwards of $1000 NZD)

    ******************************************************************************************

    So it is not as easy as you said when it comes to filtering out fluoride from the tap water… Perhaps you may say their results are deliberately biased, but the table they provided on their website was not intended for argument’s sake but to present the different ways of filtration for those who wish to get rid of fluoride in their tap water and to find out which method is most effective.

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  7. Fascinating, did not know that. Thought that it was expensive to remove F, thus those on low incomes wouldn’t be able to do so. But that seems a quite reasonable expense. Will store away for future debates on this subject (was a F hater, now a F believer, so have a few debates).

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  8. Pants, that is, of course, not an objective evaluation. They compared a brand new activated charcoal cartridge with an old alumina one – probably at the stage of requiring recharging.That is dishonest, to say the least ( and I wonder what the retailers who give them a kickback will think🙂 )

    Have a look at this $259 filter which claim 98% reduction of F http://www.nzfilterwarehouse.com/product/619035

    There are also anion exchange and mixed bed resin filters available as well – I have not seen prices for these but they can provided other advantages, as for example in softening water.

    Of course, that is for a fresh cartridge – but that is the simple fact of filter use – cartridges should be changed regularly to maintain efficiency of filtration.

    By the way, the same outfit advertises a $510 reverse osmosis setup where cartridge saturation is less of an issue. http://www.nzfilterwarehouse.com/product/312303

    I think that only a fool should trust the information promoted by Fluoride Free NZ – they are so often misleading in their claims.

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  9. I don’t know how available they are in NZ but bone char filters are also effective (although they may increase P levels) Here is a US system for US$230 http://www.amazon.com/Stage-Countertop-Fluoride-Removal-System/dp/B00DYVS0JA

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  10. In the USA Home Depot sells a reverse osmosis filter for $150 (US). I am unaware of any reports of them failing to effectively remove fluoride.

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  11. I guess like most things, the last 10 – 15 years has seriously reduced the price of stuff.

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  12. David Fierstien

    I have been told to use deionized water in fluoride analysis because even distilled water can have the fluoride ion.

    With that in mind, I once tested distilled water (bought in a grocery store) for fluoride using deionized water as a zero and found distilled to have 0.02 ppm. I don’t know how accurate that test was. I used what is called the SPADNS method which relies on a small spectrophotometer and can have some interferences. I will be switching over to the ion-selective method for fluoride analysis soon, and when I do I will test distilled water again.

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  13. A $510 reverse osmosis system is still pretty expensive to most people, let alone the ongoing filter replacement cost in the years to come.

    Also weren’t you somewhat misleading when you said the “Fluoride NZ” quoted data from an “old alumina one”, where the “old” alumina one is only SIX-month old! Or if this is not misleading, that “six months” is in fact “old” for a cartridge, then how much cost the frequent cartridge replacement will add up to be? This will be substantial cost in the long run, and not affordable for many of us. Yet this cost is totally avoidable if the government doesn’t have this fluoridation programme imposed on everyone where not everyone needs fluoridation to avoid cavities in teeth.

    For example, my father, who is now at the age of 62, has no dental caries at all. He was born, raised up and has spent most of his time in a country with non-fluoridated water, probably only except the occasional times when he travelled overseas where water is fluoridated. Every year or every couple of year when he has his regular dental checkup, his dentist would wonder at his perfect teeth and had said to him that he rarely sees someone with such perfect teeth! I think my father’s good teeth is due to his good hygiene, good diet plus most importantly, good genes.

    So my point is, the government should not set up this water fluoridation scheme for the whole country when this is not necessary for everyone because everyone is different. If some people need fluoridated water to strengthen their teeth, the government can subsidize them to get fluoridated water (there are fluoride pills to be added to water for those needed) and fluoridated toothpaste, instead of spending the money to add it to everyone’s water.

    The long-term biocumulative effect of fluoride is unknown as no one has done any study on it (if you can find a study on this, please enlighten me). Nowadays we are not only getting fluoride from the water we drink, we are also getting it from the food we eat, because we are irrigating plants with fluoridated water, feeding livestocks with fluoridated water. So the total amount of fluoride we are ingesting (which mostly will be accumulated in our body) cannot be just simply calculated from the ‘ppm’ in the water that we drink, it is more than that for sure. And we know that in places where fluoride naturally occurs in high amount in water, people suffer from skeletal fluorosis. The people living in areas with high fluoride concentrations in their water suffer acutely; who can guarantee we are not silently and gradually suffering from bone problems due to the gradual fluoride buildup in our body because of our much larger exposure to fluoride through everything that we eat and drink?

    [P.S.: Something side-tracked: When you put up the sign “LEAVE A REPLY: PLEASE BE POLITE TO OTHER COMMENTERS & NO AD HOMINEMS.”, are you yourself polite to your commenters by calling them a “fool”?]

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  14. David Fierstien

    Pants4water, your quote: “The long-term biocumulative effect of fluoride is unknown as no one has done any study on it (if you can find a study on this, please enlighten me).”

    I would have to say that the 70 year study which is the United States of America, a nation of over 425 million which is more than 70% fluoridated (per capita) should suffice.

    I can say this because science is based on empirical evidence.

    You are talking about fluoride accumulation in the body and skeletal fluorosis. (“And we know that in places where fluoride naturally occurs in high amount in water, people suffer from skeletal fluorosis. The people living in areas with high fluoride concentrations in their water suffer acutely; who can guarantee we are not silently and gradually suffering from bone problems due to the gradual fluoride buildup in our body . . “)

    In the United States, where community water fluoridation has been practiced longer than any other place on the planet, by more people than any other place on the planet, there have been roughly only a dozen documented cases of skeletal fluorosis.

    Your question, “who can guarantee we are not silently and gradually suffering from bone problems due to the gradual fluoride buildup in our body . . ?” I don’t know, but I can guarantee that community water fluoridation doesn’t lead to these issues.

    Fact: The empirical evidence from this 70 year experiment says that community water fluoridation does not lead to skeletal fluorosis.

    A more practical answer, however, would be that where CWF is practiced in the U.S., the fluoride level in water is checked on a daily basis from several points in a distribution system. Where CWF is not practiced, fluoride levels are checked only annually. Without a doubt, CWF offers tighter surveillance, more control, and if need be, a quicker response to address fluoride levels in drinking water

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  15. David, in the paragraph where I said “The people living in areas with high fluoride concentrations in their water suffer acutely; who can guarantee we are not silently and gradually suffering from bone problems due to the gradual fluoride buildup in our body because of our much larger exposure to fluoride through everything that we eat and drink?” – this was meant to be interpreted as a comparison between high and low dose of fluoride in water.

    I intended to point out that in areas with high fluoride concentrations in water i.e. higher than that in community water fluoridation scheme, people will suffer acutely from skeletal fluorosis. But in the areas of lower dose of fluoride in the water i.e. in areas with CWF, the effect would be less acute, yet could still be leading to potential bone problems (e.g. chronic joint pain) – not as serious as skeletal fluorosis, but who can be sure the minor bone problems aren’t a result from CWF?

    Moreover, even though “CWF offers tighter surveillance” over the fluoride level in water, why does the government have to impose this on everyone where everyone is different and that not everyone needs fluoridated water for their teeth? Think about that dozen cases of people who developed skeletal fluorosis under CWF – this demonstrates not everyone is suitable for this scheme. Like I said before, the government can subsidize people to get fluoridated water (there are fluoride pills to be added to water for those needed) and fluoridated toothpaste, instead of spending the money to add it to everyone’s water.

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  16. Pants, thgere is a lot of “could bes” there. What is your evidence {apart from a locgical “could”)for harm at the concetrations used for community water fluoridation?

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  17. Pants – public health policy is based upon statistical distributions. There are always people at the end of the bell curves who will not respond, like the general population.

    So given that there are large number of cavities that are prevented via water fluoridation, especially among the poor groups. A handful of people who may develop side effects is considered acceptable.

    Or to put it another way. The ethics of removing fluoride would mean that very large number of people would be negatively affected, while only a handful would be positively affected (or effected, I can never remember which is what).

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  18. David Fierstien

    Pants, your quote: ” Think about that dozen cases of people who developed skeletal fluorosis under CWF – this demonstrates not everyone is suitable for this scheme.”

    Now here you are talking about roughly a dozen people in 70 years in a nation of 425 million.

    I have tried to find specific information about these cases (maybe someone else can offer something about them) but there is no evidence that they drank optimally fluoridated water for a lifetime. We don’t know where they lived, where they came from, or what their personal habits were.

    There was a lady in England who had a documented case of skeletal fluorosis. The cause was her excessive tea drinking.

    There is nothing anywhere, that I have seen, that links optimally fluoridated water to skeletal fluorosis, not even to a mere 12 people in 425,000,000.

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