Tag Archives: chemophobia

Fluoridation: the truth about heavy metal contamination

Anti-fluoride activists going on about contaminants in drinking water due to fluoridation have it all wrong. If they avoided their knee jerk, chemophobic reactions to certificates of analysis and did some calculations they would realised they are making a fuss about absolutely nothing.


I am currently absorbed in dealing with family issues at the moment so am reposting this article, .” Unfortunately is is still very much relevant.


Sometimes anti-fluoride propagandists end up shooting themselves in the foot. This always seems to happen when they produce “evidence’ that fluoridating chemicals are loaded with toxic heavy metals.

It feels like shooting fish in a barrel to debunk their use of analytical figures because the data they produce always shows them to be completely wrong. I wrote about this before in Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination. So, I am effectively repeating myself by discussing the meme image below that Fluoride Free NZ is currently circulating in social media.

Hill lab

Still, this time, I will show how insignificant these analytical figures by comparing the calculated final concentrations in tap water – due to addition of the chemical – with measured concentrations for these contaminants in Hamilton tap water.

Added contaminants as percentage of MAVs

But first – what contribution would this sample of fluorosilicic acid make to the contaminant levels in Hamilton’s tap water – and how do these levels compare with the maximum acceptable values (MAVs) defined in New Zealand’s Drinking Water Standards? The values for the MAVs are published in:

Ministry of Health. (2008). Drinking-water Standards for New Zealand 2005 ( Revised 2008 ) (Vol. 2005). Wellington.

In this table, the “Tap water (mg/L)” data are the calculated final concentrations after addition of the fluoridating agent in the meme. The “%age of MAV” data are these values expressed as a percentage of the maximum acceptable values (MAVs) for the contaminants.

Impurity MAV (mg/L) Tap water calculated (mg/L) %age of MAV
Aluminium 0.1 8.69E-05 0.0869
Antimony 0.02 < 3.56E-07 <0.0018
Arsenic 0.01 1.26E-05 0.1264
Barium 0.7 4.27E-06 0.0006
Cadmium 0.004 2.37E-07 0.0059
Chromium 0.05 4.74E-06 0.0095
Copper 1 1.19E-06 0.0001
Iron 0.2 1.62E-04 0.0810
Lead 0.01 2.37E-07 0.0024
Manganese 0.04 3.56E-06 0.0089
Mercury 0.007 < 1.98E-07 <0.0028
Molybdenum 0.07 < 3.56E-07 <0.0005
Nickel 0.08 3.95E-06 0.0049
Selenium 0.01 < 1.98E-07 <0.0020
Uranium 0.02 2.05E-06 0.0103

Sorry, I have had to use scientific formating for some numbers because the final calculated concentrations in tap water are so low. On average, the calculated concentration  of these contaminants due to the fluoridating agent is about 0.02% of the MAV.  The largest relative contribution is for arsenic – just over 0.1%.

Regulations require that the contribution of contaminants from fluoridating agents should always be less than 10% of the MAV . The actual level of contaminants in this particular sample is well below those regulated maxima.

The Fluoride Free NZ meme is just promoting naive chemophobic scaremongering about absolutely nothing. These activists just haven’t bothered calculating what the analytical data means for the final concentrations in tap water. Or even bothered comparing the data with the regulated maximum amounts allowed for fluoridating chemicals. These values are available in Standard for the Supply of Fluoride for Use in Water Treatment.

Added contaminants as a percentage of concentrations in inlet water and treated water.

Let’s now compare the estimated contribution from contaminants in this sample of fluorosilicic acid to the levels of the very same contaminants in the Hamilton water. I have taken data from this document issued by the Hamilton City Council:

Waikato River and Treated Drinking Water Comprehensive Analysis Report 2013/14

The next table is for samples taken on 18th July 2013 at the intake to the treatment plant (that is the source water before treatment). The “Added FSA%” is the calculated level of impurity resulting from fluoridation expressed as a percentage of the impurity naturally present in the source water.

Impurity Intake (mg/L) Added FSA%
Aluminium 1.68E-01 0.05
Antimony 8.50E-04 <0.04
Arsenic 1.96E-02 0.06
Barium 1.88E-02 0.02
Berylium <1.10E-04 0.18
Cadmium <5.30E-05 0.45
Chromium <5.30E-04 0.89
Copper <5.30E-04 0.22
Iron 2.94E-01 0.06
Lead 1.18E-04 0.20
Manganese 2.15E-02 0.02
Mercury <8.00E-05 <0.25
Molybdenum 3.80E-04 <0.09
Nickel <5.30E-04 0.75
Selenium <1.10E-03 <0.02
Tin <5.30E-04 0.22
Uranium <2.10E-05 9.78
Zinc 8.13E-01 0.00

Now, a similar calculation and comparison – this time “Added FSA%” is the calculated level of impurity resulting from fluoridation expressed as a percentage of the impurity already present in the “treated water” – which is the final tap water. (At this time the Hamilton water supply was not fluoridated).

Impurity Treated (mg/L) Added FSA%
Aluminium 2.04E-02 0.43
Antimony 8.00E-04 <0.04
Arsenic <1.10E-03 1.15
Barium 1.26E-02 0.03
Berylium <1.10E-04 <0.18
Cadmium <5.30E-05 0.45
Chromium <5.30E-04 0.89
Copper 8.00E-04 0.15
Iron <2.10E-02 0.77
Lead 4.82E-04 0.05
Manganese 1.75E-03 0.20
Mercury <8.00E-05 <0.25
Molybdenum 3.70E-04 <0.10
Nickel 3.52E-03 0.11
Selenium <1.10E-03 <0.02
Tin <5.30E-04 0.22
Uranium <2.10E-05 9.78
Zinc 4.82E-03 0.14

The extremely low levels of contaminants – both calculated and already in the intake water and final treated water – mean some of the calculations are rather meaningless. Especially as some of the analysed values are given as less than the detection limit.

However, the very low calculated contribution of contaminants from this fluorosilicic acid sample – usually < 1% of that naturally present – shows how ridiculous the Fluoride Free NZ claims about contamination introduced by fluoridating agents is.

Never trust anti-fluoride campaigners

Fluoride Free NZ is simply scaremongering – relying on naive chemophobia where just the chemical name and analytical data (even where the “<” symbol indicates below the level of detection) seem to scare people.

This example illustrates, once again, that the claims made by anti-fluoride and similar activists should never be accepted at face value. They should always be checked against reliable sources.

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Chemophobic scaremongering: Much ado about absolutely nothing

much-ado

Sometimes anti-fluoride propagandists end up shooting themselves in the foot. This always seems to happen when they produce “evidence’ that fluoridating chemicals are loaded with toxic heavy metals.

It feels like shooting fish in a barrel to debunk their use of analytical figures because the data they produce always shows them to be completely wrong. I wrote about this before in Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination. So, I am effectively repeating myself by discussing the meme image below that Fluoride Free NZ is currently circulating in social media.

Hill lab

Still, this time, I will show how insignificant these analytical figures by comparing the calculated final concentrations in tap water – due to addition of the chemical – with measured concentrations for these contaminants in Hamilton tap water.

Added contaminants as percentage of MAVs

But first – what contribution would this sample of fluorosilicic acid make to the contaminant levels in Hamilton’s tap water – and how do these levels compare with the maximum acceptable values (MAVs) defined in New Zealand’s Drinking Water Standards? The values for the MAVs are published in:

Ministry of Health. (2008). Drinking-water Standards for New Zealand 2005 ( Revised 2008 ) (Vol. 2005). Wellington.

In this table, the “Tap water (mg/L)” data are the calculated final concentrations after addition of the fluoridating agent in the meme. The “%age of MAV” data are these values expressed as a percentage of the maximum acceptable values (MAVs) for the contaminants.

Impurity MAV (mg/L) Tap water calculated (mg/L) %age of MAV
Aluminium 0.1 8.69E-05 0.0869
Antimony 0.02 < 3.56E-07 <0.0018
Arsenic 0.01 1.26E-05 0.1264
Barium 0.7 4.27E-06 0.0006
Cadmium 0.004 2.37E-07 0.0059
Chromium 0.05 4.74E-06 0.0095
Copper 1 1.19E-06 0.0001
Iron 0.2 1.62E-04 0.0810
Lead 0.01 2.37E-07 0.0024
Manganese 0.04 3.56E-06 0.0089
Mercury 0.007 < 1.98E-07 <0.0028
Molybdenum 0.07 < 3.56E-07 <0.0005
Nickel 0.08 3.95E-06 0.0049
Selenium 0.01 < 1.98E-07 <0.0020
Uranium 0.02 2.05E-06 0.0103

Sorry, I have had to use scientific formating for some numbers because the final calculated concentrations in tap water are so low. On average, the calculated concentration  of these contaminants due to the fluoridating agent is about 0.02% of the MAV.  The largest relative contribution is for arsenic – just over 0.1%.

Regulations require that the contribution of contaminants from fluoridating agents should always be less than 10% of the MAV . The actual level of contaminants in this particular sample is well below those regulated maxima.

The Fluoride Free NZ meme is just promoting naive chemophobic scaremongering about absolutely nothing. These activists just haven’t bothered calculating what the analytical data means for the final concentrations in tap water. Or even bothered comparing the data with the regulated maximum amounts allowed for fluoridating chemicals. These values are available in Standard for the Supply of Fluoride for Use in Water Treatment.

Added contaminants as a percentage of concentrations in inlet water and treated water.

Let’s now compare the estimated contribution from contaminants in this sample of fluorosilicic acid to the levels of the very same contaminants in the Hamilton water. I have taken data from this document issued by the Hamilton City Council:

Waikato River and Treated Drinking Water Comprehensive Analysis Report 2013/14

The next table is for samples taken on 18th July 2013 at the intake to the treatment plant (that is the source water before treatment). The “Added FSA%” is the calculated level of impurity resulting from fluoridation expressed as a percentage of the impurity naturally present in the source water.

Impurity Intake (mg/L) Added FSA%
Aluminium 1.68E-01 0.05
Antimony 8.50E-04 <0.04
Arsenic 1.96E-02 0.06
Barium 1.88E-02 0.02
Berylium <1.10E-04 0.18
Cadmium <5.30E-05 0.45
Chromium <5.30E-04 0.89
Copper <5.30E-04 0.22
Iron 2.94E-01 0.06
Lead 1.18E-04 0.20
Manganese 2.15E-02 0.02
Mercury <8.00E-05 <0.25
Molybdenum 3.80E-04 <0.09
Nickel <5.30E-04 0.75
Selenium <1.10E-03 <0.02
Tin <5.30E-04 0.22
Uranium <2.10E-05 9.78
Zinc 8.13E-01 0.00

Now, a similar calculation and comparison – this time “Added FSA%” is the calculated level of impurity resulting from fluoridation expressed as a percentage of the impurity already present in the “treated water” – which is the final tap water. (At this time the Hamilton water supply was not fluoridated).

Impurity Treated (mg/L) Added FSA%
Aluminium 2.04E-02 0.43
Antimony 8.00E-04 <0.04
Arsenic <1.10E-03 1.15
Barium 1.26E-02 0.03
Berylium <1.10E-04 <0.18
Cadmium <5.30E-05 0.45
Chromium <5.30E-04 0.89
Copper 8.00E-04 0.15
Iron <2.10E-02 0.77
Lead 4.82E-04 0.05
Manganese 1.75E-03 0.20
Mercury <8.00E-05 <0.25
Molybdenum 3.70E-04 <0.10
Nickel 3.52E-03 0.11
Selenium <1.10E-03 <0.02
Tin <5.30E-04 0.22
Uranium <2.10E-05 9.78
Zinc 4.82E-03 0.14

The extremely low levels of contaminants – both calculated and already in the intake water and final treated water – mean some of the calculations are rather meaningless. Especially as some of the analysed values are given as less than the detection limit.

However, the very low calculated contribution of contaminants from this fluorosilicic acid sample – usually < 1% of that naturally present – shows how ridiculous the Fluoride Free NZ claims about contamination introduced by fluoridating agents is.

Never trust anti-fluoride campaigners

Fluoride Free NZ is simply scaremongering – relying on naive chemophobia where just the chemical name and analytical data (even where the “<” symbol indicates below the level of detection) seem to scare people.

This example illustrates, once again, that the claims made by anti-fluoride and similar activists should never be accepted at face value. They should always be checked against reliable sources.

Similar articles

 

The toxicity of chemophobia

ChemophobiaImage credit: A dirty word?

Chemophobia is rampant on the internet. It seems to range from a reasonable concern over the potential adverse effects of synthetic chemicals to an irrational fear of these substances because of misconceptions about their potential for harm. Often it is accompanied by a complete misunderstanding of risk and an unrealistic understanding of the role of concentration in toxicity.

The Soapbox Science blog article, The presence of a chemical is not the same as presence of risk, from a few years back, describes both these problems.

All substances are chemicals

“Chemical” is not a dirty word. Nor is it a synonym for “poison” or “toxin.” Chemicals are the basic building blocks of all matter and classifying them as “safe” or “dangerous” is inappropriate. But of course there are safe or dangerous ways of using chemicals. In any case, chemicals are not to be feared or worshipped, they are to be understood. And perhaps the most important point to understand is that the presence of a chemical does not equate to the presence of a risk.

I would add to this the confusion many people have about “natural” substances and “synthetic” chemicals. All substances are chemicals and the properties of a specific chemical are completely independent from whether it occurs “naturally” or has been manufactured or synthesised. Yet, again and again, I get comments from people who declare that fluoride in fluoridated tap water is bad – because the fluoridating agent is a manufacture chemical or by-product of a chemical industry.

Similarly, commenters will argue that the “natural” fluoride in our water is good because it is derived from the naturally occurring fluoride mineral fluorite or calcium fluoride. The chemical species in the water, whatever its origin, is the hydrated fluoride anion. Its origin has absolutely no influence on its properties, its reactions in our body or on its toxicity.

The actual concentration is relevant

Thanks to our analytical capabilities, we can now routinely detect substances down to the part per trillion (ppt) level. That’s not finding a needle in a haystack; it’s finding a needle in a world full of haystacks. At that level, we can detect a myriad of chemicals should we choose to look for them! And by selectively referencing the scientific literature, the spectra of risk can be readily raised.

Practically any element and most chemicals can be detected in all of our foods and beverages. But in most cases they are only present in incredibly small concentrations. Modern analytical techniques are capable of identifying chemicals at incredibly low concentrations – so low they are just not relevant to concerns about safety or toxicity.

This means that regulations controlling the presence of contaminants in our foods and beverages must define the maximum allowable or acceptable concentrations – otherwise, all foods would be rejected no matter how “natural” or “chemical-free” they are.

The problem is that chemophobic people react to analytical evidence of a contaminant chemical without considering the concentration. The very fact that it may have been detected in a sample (or even not detected at the analytical sensitivity available) is enough to raise concerns.

For example, I have seen opponents of community water fluoridation wave around certificates of analysis of fluoridating chemicals as if they proved these chemicals a loaded with toxic heavy metals.

But look at this example of data from a certificate of analysis for fluorosilicic acid purchased by Hamilton City Council at the time anti-fluoride campaigners were using the heavy metal argument in their campaign against fluoridation.

Hamilton CofA

The use of the “less than” indicator (<) shows that the concentration of several of these heavy metals was below the detection limit for the recommended analytical method (in this case antimony, mercury, molybdenum and selenium).

All the other heavy metals have concentrations well below the regulated maximum for this concentrated fluoridating chemical. Check this out – the regulated maxima (mg/kg) are 132 for arsenic, 40 for cadmium, 660 for chromium, 132 for lead and 132 for selenium. (Remember, this data are for the concentrated chemical which must is diluted millions of times before consumption). In fact, in many the contribution to drinking of heavy metals from water treatment chemicals like fluorosilicic acid may be less than from natural sources (see Fluoridation: putting chemical contamination in context and Another defeat for anti-fuoridation claims about arsenic).

So these campaigners may scare chemophobic people by waving around a certificate containing analytical data – but a calm reading of the data and comparison with the regulated maxima shows there is absolutely no risk.

The risk of chicken soup

The article illustrates the silliness of chemophobia by considering a bowl of soup:

“For example, eat a bowl of chicken soup and hundreds of chemicals will flood your bloodstream, including many (benzene, methanol, etc.) that are potentially “highly toxic.” Although they are not toxic in the dose found in the soup, if you look for them in the urine, you will find them. Nobody bothers to look, because these chemicals are not deemed important; after all they are “natural,” and nobody has a political interest in banning chicken soup.”

The author says:

” I’m a big proponent of eating fresh, unprocessed foods.  However, remember that chicken soup made with fresh vegetables and organic, free range chicken can still flood the urine with plenty of compounds that could be vilified the same way as BPA or phthalates, if only one cared to make the effort.”

And that is the problem. Chemicals get vilified – even when they are harmless or at extremely low concentrations – because propagandists and activists make that effort.

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Scaremongering and chemophobia

This poster/internet meme is making the rounds at the moment. A “true believer” asked for my comments on it as he seemed to think its arguments amounted to “gospel truth.”

misleading poster

So here are some comments:

“Natural” vs “man-made”

They are comparing  crystals found in nature with a processed chemical here. But if CaF2 (the ore fluorite) was meant be used for water treatment it would have to be processed to remove impurities (the natural ore is far from pure). The most effective way of removing contaminants is conversion to hydrofluoric acid and precipitation of calcium fluoride (CaF2). Ending up with a “man-made” product!

Some anti-fluoride campaigners seem to argue that fluoridation would be OK if the fluoridating agent used was CaF2. The contaminants present and need for purification are only two of the flaws in their argument. The low solubility of CaF2 is another flaw.

Incidentally, fluorosilicic acid is effectively purified in its manufacture because of the differing melting and boiling points of heavy metal fluorides and silicon tetrafluoride.

“Safe to hold” vs corrosive

True, concentrated fluorosilicic acid is much more corrosive than CaF2. But so what – this is an issue for those manufacturing, transporting and handling the source material. It is not an issue for consumers as drinking water does not contain either CaF2 or fluorosilicic acid.

By the way, the material safety data sheet for CaF2 says this:

“Potential Acute Health Effects: Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. Corrosive to eyes and skin. The amount of tissue damage depends on length of contact. Eye contact can result in corneal damage or blindness. Skin contact can produce inflammation and blistering. Inhalation of dust will produce irritation to gastro-intestinal or respiratory tract, characterized by burning, sneezing and coughing. Severe over-exposure can produce lung damage, choking, unconsciousness or death.”

And:

“Precautions: Keep locked up.. Keep container dry. Do not ingest. Do not breathe dust. Never add water to this product. Wear suitable protective clothing. In case of insufficient ventilation, wear suitable respiratory equipment. If ingested, seek medical advice immediately and show the container or the label. Avoid contact with skin and eyes.”

So the advice to those manufacturing, handling and transporting CaF2 is that it is not safe to hold  with bare hands!

Sparingly soluble in water

This is one of the disadvantages of CaF2 as a fluoridating agent as a saturated solution has a fluoride concentration of about 7.5 ppm. Just imagine the size of the container required to hold the quantities of CaF2 solution required for addition to a reservoir!

The high concentration of fluoride in liquid fluorosilicic acid (and the fact that it rapidly decomposes to produce the hydrated fluoride anion on dilution with water) provides a big advantage to it as a fluoridating agent.

Fluoride toxicity reduced by calcium

Yes, high concentrations of fluoride are toxic – although the concentration in community fluoridated water (CWF) (0.7 ppm) is quite safe. The toxicity of ingested fluoride at high concentrations can be reduced by the presence of calcium – because of the low solubility of CaF2.

But let’s be realistic, in the absence of other factors the addition of the appropriate amount of calcium would reduce the fluoride concentration to about 8 ppm. Far higher than the regulated maximum for CWF.

As for some other speculated protective action the calcium in CaF2 could provide – the calcium concentration in a saturated CaF2 solution is only about 7.5 ppm – and at the fluoride concentration used for fluoridated water CaF2 would support a calcium concentration of about 0.8 ppm. Any calcium from added calcium fluoride would be irrelevant compared with the natural calcium concentrations in drinking water. The graph compares these figures for several treatment stations in New Zealand –  see Calcium fluoride and the “soft” water anti-fluoridation myth for further information.

“Man-made waste product”

I have discussed the “man-made” fallacy above. Anti-fluoride campaigners love to describe fluorosilicic acid as a “waste product.”  But Wikipedia defines a waste product as:

“unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primary use, or it is worthless, defective and of no use”

By definition, then, the fluorosilicic acid used in CWF is not a waste product. It would be if it were disposed of without use – then so is food.

Anti-fluoride campaigners also seem to think that a by-product is somehow evil. This is because most fluorosilicic acid is produced as a by-product of phosphate ore processing. But, come on. Surely production and use of by-products is a desirable feature in judging the conservation aspects of a manufacturing process. And would phosphate chemicals be somehow evil if they were produced as a by-product of fluoride chemical manufacturer from phosphate ores?

Toxicity of “co-contaminants”

I discussed the problem of contaminants in “natural” CaF2 above and added that contaminants in the fluorosilicic acid used for CWF are very low.

But don’t take my word for it. Water treatment chemicals are regulated and the fluorosilicic acid used for CWF must pass rigid tests for the presence of contaminants. The regulations provide for maximum concentrations of contaminants and where a certificate of analysis shows these are exceeded the material is rejected by water treatment plants.

I discussed this in my article Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies? where I debunked this claim made by Fluoride Free NZ. I also provided some data on the chemical analysis of fluorosilicic acid samples. In the article Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination I compare the real concentration of contaminants recorded in certificates of analysis with the regulated limits. It turns out that the fluorosilicic acid manufactured in Australia and New Zealand is very low in such contaminants – see figure below.

Of course – some opponents like to claim that any amount of contaminants is too much, despite the regulations. Well, if they want to pursue that argument then they must look at all sources of contamination. In many cases, they will find that there is a larger amount of contamination coming from the original water source, natural contamination, than from the water treatment chemicals

I showed this in the article Fluoridation: putting chemical contamination in context where I compared the amount of arsenic from different sources  in the Hamilton City water supply. The figure below from that article shows that natural levels of arsenic in the water source (the Waikato River) are much higher than the recommended levels for drinking water. Even after treatment (which reduces the arsenic levels to below the recommended maximum) the contribution of arsenic from this natural source is still much greater than the calculated contribution from the fluoridating agent used.

Conclusion

This bit of anti-fluoride propaganda is just another example of scaremongering relying on chemophobia and lack of information, even ignorance.

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