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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about - fluoridated tap water. It was first introduced in 1945 and the debate over its benefits versus hazards has been ongoing.


CURWOOD: For most Americans, the simple act of turning on the tap helps take care of their teeth. This week marks the anniversary of what most dentists hail as an important advance in public health, adding fluoride to drinking water. Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first city to fluoridate its water back in 1945. Now, more than two third of the nation gets the fluoride treatment. Some studies show it reduces tooth decay by up to 40 percent. Fluoridated water was extremely controversial when it first began to flow, and the controversy continues today. Critics say over-exposure to the chemical can cause cancer, bone fractures, and neurological damage. They dispute claims that the additive fights tooth decay and charge instead that it causes brittle, mottled, and discolored teeth--and the ailment known as dental fluorosis, which generates extra income for dentists. The American Dental Association denies that dentists have ulterior motives, but the fluoride fight won't die. Since 1990, 60 U.S. cities have said no to fluoridation. And last year a group of employees at the Environmental Protection Agency came out against the additive. Beyond the health debate, fluoride has fueled a raft of some pretty wild conspiracy theories. Some tried to claim fluoridated water was developed to dispose of toxic fluoride waste from fertilizer factories and plants that build atomic bombs.

(Music up and under: Soviet Union national anthem)

CURWOOD: And then there's the Cold War charge that fluoridation was a secret plot by the Soviet Union to turn Americans into communist dupes. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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