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Children's Health

Is Fluoride in Private Wells Causing an IQ Decline?

By Tammera J. Karr, PhD

When I saw this headline in the Scientific America magazine from August 20th, 2014, I was suppressed for two reasons. The first is this magazine hasn’t been overly receptive of information of this nature over the last few years. The second reason is the controversy over fluoride in general.

Like many states with granite rich soils Main’s many small communities and residents, rely on private wells for the water they drink, bathe in and perhaps use to make infant milk formula. Newly available data, released in recent months, indicates that in some 10 communities in the state of Main, wells harbor dangerously high levels of fluoride. In some cases, the wells contain more than double the level that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed the acceptable maximum exposure level.
At higher levels, fluoride can lead to pitted teeth and discoloration. It also makes bones brittle and more prone to fractures. Recent studies have also linked high levels of fluoride exposure with IQ deficits. A 2012 review article examined some two dozen relevant studies performed outside the U.S.—mostly in China but also a couple in Iran—and found high fluoride exposures reduce children’s IQs by an average of about seven points. (The studies did not all account for exposures to other potentially harmful substances such as lead, but the sheer volume of them does raise concerns about this association.)
Mainers may be sipping similar amounts of fluoride. “The sort of levels we’re talking about that are high in China are the sort of levels we see in some private wells,” says Andrew Smith, Maine state toxicologist.
When you take into account the naturally occurring high levels and add that to the countless dental hygiene products in use and the routine fluoride treatments at dental offices the elevated numbers would be considerably higher yet.
In Dedham Main, for example, data from 37 wells indicates that 37.8 percent of that water is above the state’s maximum exposure guideline for fluoride. Dedham is not alone: in Surry, Prospect, Franklin, Sedgwick, Penobscot, York, Harrison and Stockton Springs, more than 10 percent of the wells appear to have fluoride levels higher than the state cutoff.
The new data on fluoride levels in Maine water is not from a random sampling of homes in Maine nor is it complete. The data comes from homeowners who voluntarily sent water samples into state labs for testing, which potentially skews the sample. But it does provide the first snapshot of what may prove to be a larger problem.
The state’s suggested limit of two milligrams per liter is half of the EPA limit but many public health advocates argue that limit is far too high. The agency is currently considering lowering its cutoff for fluoride exposure, although it does not expect to have completed its review of the issue until 2016.
Now water is a big deal to me, Oregon in some areas has an abundance of fresh water, however we are seeing more and more of this water come up contaminated, and our ground water is no exception. Fluoride is not the only naturally occurring mineral that can and is toxic to humans. In 2014, I had an entire family test positive for cadmium poisoning related to their well water, others will find high levels of arsenic, chemical run off, and mercury depending on the soil composition.
Unfortunately even people whose water is contaminated with far more harmful chemicals frequently take no action. Arsenic—an odorless, tasteless element can cause maladies including cancer, blindness and numbness in hands and feet. They reported that 27 percent of those Mainers did nothing about it. When asked why not, people reported a lack of concern about arsenic and reluctance to pay for any mitigating action.
The lesson here is don’t take the safety of your well water for granted; your health and that of your family’s may depend on it. Get your wells routinely tested, as drought conditions occur throughout a given state or area, concentrations of toxic minerals increase in well water.
If in doubt utilize home water filtration systems designed to remove heavy metals and chemicals.
To Your Good Health and safe water.