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Op-Ed: May 2013

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Op-Ed: May 2013

Why Sonoma County should not fluoridate its water

By Professor Paul Connett, Director of the Fluoride Action Network (www.FluorideAlert.org)

Water fluoridation is a very bad medical practice

The public water supply should never be used to deliver medicine. Once added to the water you cannot control the dose, you cannot control who gets the medicine and it violates the individual’s right to informed consent. Medical professionals should be ashamed to support such a crude and unethical practice.

After 68 years the evidence that fluoridation works to reduce tooth decay and poses no health risks is pitiful

If fluoridating the public water supply was as good as the promoters say it is, then after 68 years

  • The majority of countries would be doing it – but they aren’t. 97% of European countries do not fluoridate their water.
  • There would be a clear difference in tooth decay between countries that do and those that don’t – but there isn’t (see World Health Organization data online, displayed graphically at http://www.fluoridealert.org/studies/caries01/
  • There would be randomized clinical trials that demonstrate its safety and effectiveness  - but there aren’t.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration would have approved fluoride for ingestion – but it hasn’t. Its official classification of fluoride is that it is an “unapproved drug.”
  • The public water supply would have been used to deliver other drugs –but it hasn’t.
  • The promoters would gladly agree to publicly debate leading scientific opponents of fluoridation – but they very rarely do so.

Fluoridation cannot be defended ethically or scientifically

There is no doubt that the vast majority of people that promote fluoridation truly believe in this practice. But public health policy must be based upon more than a belief system. It must be rigorously defended using the best science available. Not one single health question should be left unresolved. However, after 68 years the promoters have neither rigorously proved fluoridation’s safety nor its effectiveness. Key studies have simply not been done. The absence of study is not the same as the absence of harm.  In fact there is now a wealth of evidence to suggest that fluoridation is neither safe nor effective (see The Case Against Fluoride by Connett, Beck and Micklem (Chelsea Green, 2010).

This is what Professor John Doull, chairman of the National Research Council panel that reviewed EPA’s safe drinking water standards, said in 2008, “What the committee found is that we’ve gone with the status quo regarding fluoride for many years—for too long really—and now we need to take a fresh look . . . In the scientific community people tend to think this is settled… But when we looked at the studies that have been done, we found that many of these questions are unsettled and we have much less information than we should, considering how long this [fluoridation] has been going on. (Scientific American, January, 2008).

Fluoridation should be ended without further delay.

It is particularly urgent that we end fluoridation now. More and more scientific evidence points to harm (NRC, 2006) including 36 studies that have found an association between lower IQs and exposure to fluoride, with several at doses close to those experienced in fluoridated communities. We need to protect future generations of children. It is reckless to expose the developing tissues of babies (including their bones, brains and endocrine systems) to levels of fluoride that are approximately 200 times the levels in mothers milk (0.004 ppm).

There are better alternatives.

Those individuals who want fluoride are not deprived of this substance should fluoridation be halted. They can use fluoridated toothpaste. This actually makes more sense because most promoters now concede that the predominant benefit of fluoride is TOPICAL not systemic (CDC, 1999). In other words if fluoride works at all it works on the outside of the tooth not from inside the body. Thus there is no need to expose the whole body to a known toxic substance for a lifetime with every glass of water drunk. And there is no rational reason to force people to drink it when they don’t want to do so.

Better still we should encourage people to use non-fluoridated toothpaste containing Xylitol. Xylitol is a natural sugar, which we produce in our own bodies. It helps fight tooth decay by preventing the bacteria that convert sugar to acids, from sticking to the teeth. Mothers who use xylitol also protect their babies. Xylitol has been used successfully in Scandinavia and Japan for over 30 years.

Because most of the tooth decay is concentrated in families of low income they should be targeted for better diet and better education. More brushing, and less sugar would also help fight obesity. Tooth decay is caused by too much sugar and not by lack of fluoride. Funds should be made available for schools in low-income areas to provide xylitol mints to their pupils, as has been done in Wichita, Kansas. 

The practice of fluoridation is well past its due date. It’s time to stop. Sonoma County should not start.

To start fluoridation in Sonoma County before the EPA has determined a new safe drinking water standard and goal, as recommended by the National Research Council in 2006, would be reckless and irresponsible. It would also be unscientific to do so before determining the total dose of fluoride currently experienced by children in the County or determining the current prevalence of dental fluorosis. By the promoters’ own theory if this prevalence is greater than 10-15%, the children are already receiving an adequate dose of fluoride to fight tooth decay. Current fluorosis rates in the US are 41% in children aged 12-15 (CDC, 2010).

  • · CDC, 1999. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1999. Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Fluoridation of drinking water to prevent dental caries. Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Review. (MMWR). 48(41): 933-940 October 22, 1999. Available at  www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4841a1.htm
  • · CDC, 2010 ( I will forward this reference shortly).
  • · NRC, 2006. National Research Council. 2006. Fluoride in drinking water: a scientific review of EPA’s standards. National Academies Press, Washington D.C. Report available to read and search at http://www.sonomacountygazette.com/cms/pages/catalog.php?record_id=11571

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Fluoride to Drinking Water: Nothing But Questions

By Larry Hanson

Since the hiring of Lynn Silver-Chalfin from New York as Health Officer for Sonoma County’s Health Services to bring fluoridation to Sonoma County’s drinking water, I have had nothing but questions.  But before I ask my questions, there are a few things I learned that I didn’t know before this fluoride campaign got started just several months ago.  I found out that:

  • The only city in Sonoma County that fluoridates their drinking water is Healdsburg.
  • That infants are not supposed to have fluoridated water.
  • That no water dispensers, private or public, have or will label that the water is fluoridated.
  • That there is no practical way to treat fluoride in wastewater so that the County will allow fluoridated water to get into our waterways and expose all the wildlife to this chemical.

There are many other reasons to wonder about the wisdom of adding fluoride to drinking water but the above statements are undisputed, so let’s put them together in the form of questions.

If Healdsburg has been fluoridating its drinking water for some period of time and it has been effective for dental health, why didn’t Sonoma County Health Services utilize this information as a case study?  Were there negative results or no significant results to data during the years of fluoridation?  If there were no data collected, does that really mean that the decision to fluoridate the drinking water of residents was made without finding out what effect this would have on residents by collecting and assessing data?

The next set of questions have to do with the statement Lynn Silver-Chalfin made before the BOS that infants should not drink the water and should get their water from a different source.  What source would that be?  Not from mother’s milk if mother is drinking fluoridated water.  From plastic bottled water?  Where?

This brings up the next set of questions.  I hope the City of Healdsburg have some answers.  If none of the water dispensers anywhere in the city have warning labels for mothers of infants, how would mothers know not to give their babies fluoridated water or mother’s milk (tainted from drinking the water)?  What kind of a program, if any, does Healdsburg have to let the mothers know about fluoridated water in every private and public tap?  More importantly, if Healdsburg has a plan, does it work effectively?  Have there been surveys or samplings done to know the level of awareness for new mothers?  If none of this is going on, have there been efforts to check infants for fluoride related health problems?

Since it is known that fluoride will not be treated in the wastewater and will get into Sonoma County waterways and that infants with small bodies are affected, do they really believe that the much smaller bodies of wildlife will not be impacted.

My final questions are mostly just musings.  I wonder if most Healdsburg residents besides mothers with infants know they are drinking fluoridated water?  I wonder if any of the thousands of tourists visiting Healdsburg know they are being served fluoridated water?  I wonder besides the tourist industry if the wine industry thinks fluoride added to water will be good for business?

Nothing but questions.  Does anyone have any answers or are there just more questions?

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Who Saved Preservation Ranch?

By Larry Hanson 

Now that the coastal forest area called Preservation Ranch has been officially saved, there will be some backslapping and congratulating going on over this success.  And there should. The effort of changing some twenty thousand acres from a land development project into conservation status takes the work and love of many individuals representing many organizations and agencies.

The question of who may be more responsible for PR’s demise and consequent conservation is one that I would like to entertain. It's probably true that PR did not succeed because of a combination of factors such as an over zealous business plan, dubious funders, unpredictable grape prices or a combination of these or other factors.

Well, one other significant factor was Friends of the Gualala River and unassuming people like Chris Poehlmann, Peter Baye, Ph. D.. Dave Jordan and others.  Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) has been working doggedly from day one of PR’s application to Sonoma County’s Permit and Resource Department to stop the project from the significant impacts it would cause to Gualala River, its fisheries, community water sources, biotic resources, and Native American historical sites. During the many years the project has been in the development phase, there was a wait and see what happens attitude by our local government and agencies.  To my knowledge, I only knew of one group who did not wait and see but acted.  This was FoGR who also enlisted support from others like the Sierra Club's Jay Halcomb and the Water Coalition in carrying out a dynamic campaign to stop PR. With little help from officialdom, FoGR spent hundreds of hours and dollars hiring experts, filing official comment letters detailing the science behind the impacts proposed. Further, they examined the business plan and who funders were, such as CALPERS, and were able to shine a light on the weaknesses and inconsistencies of these.  They did not stop there.  Chris Poehlmann created a large bottle of wine called Pinot Egrigio, Chainsaw Wine, that created publicity at many public events.  They created a giant banner of ninety-some thousand signatures opposing the PR project and presented this at public hearing on PR project.  These are just some of the highlights.

Congratulations to FoGR, and thank you for fighting for this land.  We will always remember you when others are receiving and accepting credit for closing the deal.

I sincerely hope that the mainstream press and officials at future dedication ceremonies recognize Chris Poehlmann, Peter Baye, Dave Jordan and others involved in FoGR for the sacrifices they made against enormous odds.  Lest we are encouraged or allowed to forget, a few people are what it takes to make a difference. 

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A Sonoma forest is saved

by Denny Rosatti

The modern-day Northern California land rush to convert forests to vineyards lost some steam last month. The Preservation Ranch project, located in the northwestern hills of Sonoma County near the small hamlet of Annapolis, was a 20,000 acre proposal that would have permanently converted nearly 1,800 acres of timber forest to vineyards. In February, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat ($24.5 million deal to protect 20,000-acre Sonoma County forest,” February 26, 2013) reported the deal between government agencies and private non-profit land trusts to purchase conservation easements. The deal, worth $24.5 million and set to close at the end of May, would involve a wide coalition of non-profit land trusts led by The Conservation Fund, including the California Coastal Conservancy, the Sonoma County Agriculture and Open Space District, and the Sonoma Land Trust.

Environmental activists have heaped deserved praise on those who worked to save these wild and forested lands. Project opponents had nicknamed the project “Devastation Ranch,” as its sheer scale and remoteness was a clear violation of all ecological ethics and values.

The grapes, proposed mostly for the ridgetops, would have required over 100 miles of wildlife fencing, drawn precious water supplies from sensitive tributaries of the Gualala River, and would have required extensive grading and road building on many miles of currently wild and forested areas. At times during the life of the project, the vineyards were paired up with over 100 McMansions in a remote section of rolling hills and forests.

 “Devastation Ranch” would have been a climate change activist’s nightmare. Redwood forest, which would have been cut for the vineyards, is one of the highest-value carbon “sinks” naturally available, and the project placed people and infrastructure far from any services and with little to no workforce housing anywhere within a reasonable distance. The transit void is so obvious it barely deserves mentioning. Stream pollution, habitat disturbance, water diversion and Native American heritage site disturbance were also significant concerns.

While I feel a great sense of relief that the project appears to be headed out of the development pipeline and placed into permanent protection as a working sustainably harvested forest, it is frustrating to see the enormous amount of money needed to stop this project. CalPERS, California’s retirement fund, has agreed to sell the property, essentially to the public, for $24 million. That’s a loss of $4 million from what they paid for the property in 2004. It is deeply disturbing that this level of public and private charitable money had to be spent to do the job that Sonoma County Supervisors could and should have done for free.

Activists, led in recent years by the Annapolis based Friends of the Gualala River (FOGR- www.gualalariver.org), with support from Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Action, partners in the local labor movement and numerous local and regional organizations, have been mobilizing voters for over 10 years to oppose this one project in its various forms.

Through extensive grassroots outreach and exhaustive public lobbying campaigns, the public was clearly telling supervisors not to let those beautiful and out-of-the-way ridge tops be permanently clear-cut for grapes and expensive estate homes.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors dodged a political bullet that would have put them in the hot seat, with the destruction of our precious forests hanging in the balance. The General Plan amendments that Preservation Ranch needed were discretionary, yet politically charged, as pressure from industry lobbyists and local business groups was destined to be intense, The Sonoma County Climate Action Plan, which calls for the reduction of greenhouse gases, doesn’t have policy language to prevent trading such valuable carbon sinks like redwood forest for grape vines. And had they put in place a strong timber conversion ordinance, which at one time had a proposed provision prohibiting timber conversion on parcels above 7 acres, supervisors would have avoided the possibility of this large scale clear-cut for vineyards.

It’s dangerous to leave big-money land use decisions in the hands of politicians. Without the proper land use regulations in place (such as a strong Timber Conversion policy), the public got the best possible outcome from a very bad proposal, and gratitude goes to those in the aforementioned groups and local leaders who made it happen.

Thankfully, and strangely, the economy tanked and CalPERS was forced to cover their losses in order to get out with 80% of their initial investment intact. This left the door open to conservation groups to step in to clean up the mess. A stronger regulatory framework may have dissuaded CalPERS or other would be forest-converters to vineyards from investing in such speculative and unsustainable projects in the first place.

Peter Baye, a longtime project critic and volunteer with the Friends of the Gualala River, has expressed hope that this will be the last fight of its kind on the North Coast. “Preservation Ranch’s final demise will put the nail in the coffin of a bankrupt business and land use model for North Coast forestlands,” he said.

With at least one large scale project still in the works, a 154 acre clearcut proposed by the Spanish owned Artesa Winery, I hope Mr. Baye is correct and this causes those involved in forest conversion to vineyard projects to pause. I eagerly look forward to an access agreement being worked out quickly on the Preservation Ranch property, to grant the public an up-close view of the beauty and utility in their investment. I personally intend to get out on the land as soon as the ink dries.

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Investigating The Next STEP Mystery

By Patricia Dines

It comes disguised as a modest newsletter, slipped inside Sebastopol’s bimonthly water bills. For over 12 years now, its double-sided page has offered useful information about how folks can avoid our culture’s common everyday toxics and choose healthier options instead. It seems innocent enough.

But lurking beneath the exterior of “The Next STEP” newsletter (aka TNS) is a deeper motive. The masthead offers a clue, saying that STEP stands for “Sebastopol Toxics Education Program.” The Editor unwittingly reveals that it’s an “innovative City-community collaborative project.” It’s devised, she says, not just to benefit individuals, but also to help residents work together in creating a healthier and safer town.

Ah, now we’re on the trail. Apparently, this story starts with the City of Sebastopol’s May 1999 resolution declaring Sebastopol a Voluntary Toxics-Free Zone. With this, the City Council committed to avoid using toxic pesticides on City-owned property, and to help residents voluntarily reduce their use of toxics. The Council’s goal was for current and future generations to have air safe to breathe, and water safe to drink. OK, well, that actually sounds good.

Oh, except the City didn’t have the funds or in-house knowledge to do this public outreach, so it asked the community to help. Luckily, a professional freelance writer with toxics as one of her specialties, Patricia Dines, agreed to be Editor, without pay, because she loved the vision, opportunity, and challenge of this project. Other folks volunteered to write articles and stuff newsletters.

Thus TNS was born. Over the years, these volunteers, City staff, the City Council, and readers have collaborated in shaping the project specifics. Still, it’s always been the volunteer editorial team that creates each edition — researching toxics issues, distilling key facts, and writing accessible articles, with citations, that describe actions folks can take at both the individual and community levels. The team even lays out the newsletter and delivers it final to the City, ready to be copied in-house and put in the water bills, with no added postage expense.

OK, so the City benefits from this innovative project, with very little cost or effort for them. And the readers do like it, consistently giving TNS an 85 to 90% approval rating in its annual survey. Plus 65 to 75% of them say that TNS has helped them reduce or avoid toxics use and exposure. Some folks even express warm feelings towards the City and volunteers for contributing to the community’s well-being.

And thus the mystery is solved. This newsletter is a plot for our shared benefit. How dare they! Well, or how wonderful. You can read more at http://www.sonomacountygazette.com/cms/pages/STEP-Mystery.html.

Patricia Dines is an eco-writer and Editor of The Next STEP newsletter. She clearly was in a playful mood when she wrote this.