U.S. Surgeon General Quietly Backpedaled on Water Fluoridation 5 Years Ago, Emails Reveal

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by Brenda Baletti, Ph.D., Childrens Health Defense:

After decades of pushing water fluoridation as one of the greatest public health accomplishments in U.S. history, the U.S. surgeon general’s office stopped issuing public statements of support after a National Toxicology Program report linked fluoride to children’s lower IQs.

For more than seven decades, U.S. public health officials steadfastly supported water fluoridation, claiming the practice is a key strategy for maintaining and improving dental health.

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Even today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls water fluoridation one of the “ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

However, internal email communications shared with The Defender suggest that as early as 2020, officials at the highest levels of the U.S. Public Health Service — the Office of the Surgeon General — were having second thoughts.

“These emails show that despite public statements to the contrary, there is a lot of concern in the federal government about the potential link between fluoridated drinking water and lower IQs,” said Michael Connett.

Connett, an attorney, represents plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The suit seeks to end water fluoridation based on science linking low-level fluoride exposure to lower IQ scores in children.

The emails were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and shared with The Defender by plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

They reveal that in 2020, on the 75th anniversary of water fluoridation, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declined to make a statement endorsing water fluoridation, despite strong encouragement and behind-the-scenes organizing by his Chief Dental Officer Timothy Ricks.

Adams’ office also stopped Ricks from co-signing, with eight previous chief dental officers, and releasing a letter supporting community water fluoridation and celebrating the anniversary.

The U.S. surgeon general’s public support for water fluoridation has been considered key to boosting water fluoridation since the practice began.

Until 2020, every surgeon general had made oral or written statements supporting water fluoridation, according to the communications among previous chief dental officers  — appointees who advise the surgeon general and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the recruitment and development of oral health professionals.

However, on this important anniversary, Adams’ staff told Ricks the surgeon general was reluctant to make a pro-fluoridation statement because he knew government scientists at the National Toxicology Program (NTP) were about to publish a systematic review of the literature on fluoride and neurotoxicity in children.

The NTP report found that neonatal and childhood fluoride exposure had negative cognitive and neurodevelopmental effects for children.

“One thing these emails demonstrate is what is undiscussed in the public sphere is that the science on fluoridation is very troubling, not just in high doses but at levels applicable to water fluoridation in the U.S.”

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