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Opposing panels battle over fluoridating water before Dallas city council members

Members of the Dallas city council heard from a panel of anti-fluoridation advocates. At least one member said the presentation lacked context.
Members of the Dallas city council heard from a panel of anti-fluoridation advocates. At least one member said the presentation lacked context.

For the second time in nearly a month, members of the Dallas City Council were briefed on the city’s water fluoridation program.

That's after a panel of experts detailed what they saw as the benefits of the city's decades-old fluoridation policy — primarily better dental health for all residents of the city, regardless of their access to a dentist.

After that briefing — two city council members requested a different “less opinionated” presentation. And on Tuesday, council members heard from what some consider to be the other side of the debate.

At Tuesday’s Quality of Life, Arts and Culture meeting, a second panel of doctors and researchers — this time opposed to fluoridation of community water — made their case for what they believe are its negative consequences.

The panel at Tuesday’s meeting included Fluoride Committee Co-Chair Griffin Cole, researcher Bruce Lanphear and Dr. John Staniland from the Fluoride Action Network.

“I don’t think you need to add anything to the water,” Cole said during the meeting. “[That’s] the whole point of this.”

Cole and his colleagues believe that fluoridation leads to fluorosis — that leaves teeth brittle — among other dental side-effects. Aside from that they say water fluoridation can lead to lower brain function in children.

The panel presented a wide array of data and articles that they claim paint a grim picture of communities living on fluoridated water. They also say there is current research that contradicts medical recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services.

But after a lengthy briefing, it was clear what some council members thought of the presentation.

“To come before us and pull-out little pieces here and there, when this was your moment, is just disappointing to me,” District 13 Council Member Gay Donnell Willis said. “It forced me to go in and do a lot of research that didn’t even start with a footnote that middle school presentations have.”

Willis says when she started looking at the briefing materials — there were clear omissions in the panel’s presentation. In their briefing, panel members cited a draft of a National Toxicology Program (NTP) paper examining fluoride exposure, neurodevelopmental and cognitive health effects.

But a letter sent earlier this year to the chair of the NTP Board of Scientific Counselors by two American Dental Association executives calls that study into question.

The dental leaders say that NTP officials were warned by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to “’state clearly’, ‘[reiterate] at the end’, and ‘make it clear that the monograph cannot be used to draw any conclusions regarding low fluoride exposure concentrations…’”

“NTP ignored that recommendation. Instead, the latest version is full of non-contextualized statements about ‘potential associations’ and the evidence being ‘unclear.’ In one area, NTP even states, ‘[L]ower concentrations of fluoride may support reduced IQ in humans’ without offering any data or context to support its claim,” the letter says.

“You’ve got the leading authority imploring this group to not put this forth because it has not achieved the peer review that it should,” Willis said during the committee meeting. “Since you’re putting this on the record, I am putting it on the record.”

But members of the panel say they presented the facts.

“I didn’t cherry-pick anything,” Cole said. “That’s why I gave you numbers, actual numbers.”

Willis rebutted a majority of the claims made in the panel’s presentation — and said some material did not come with citations at all.

“To be fair the sources that were cited just by Council Member Willis were from the same reports that you were referencing,” District 7 Council Member Adam Bazaldua said. “So, I think there’s a simple request for there to be more transparent context to what is being cited.”

Bazaldua was one of the two council members that originally requested a new briefing. He says it is important for elected officials to have a balance of information.

“If we’re meant to balance out two opposing sides to an argument,” Bazaldua said. “As policymakers we should be given as much transparent research to sift through to do that.”

Bazaldua says if policymakers go out and investigate the research on their own and find a lack of context for what is citied in a presentation — “intent of course is going to be questioned.”

Dental experts on the first fluoridation panel warned against misinformation and urged city officials to seriously consider who would be coming in to give a different opinion.

“I can tell you there’s a lot of misinformation that is presented out there,” Huang said. “A lot of scare tactics.”

These concerns are long-standing. In fact, adding fluoride to community water supplies has been a hotbed for controversy and conspiracy theories for decades. And a small, yet vocal and dedicated, contingent of Dallas residents show up nearly every week to city hall to speak out against the water policy.

And in popular culture, even the fictional General Jack Ripper in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove citied his drinking of “distilled water and pure grain alcohol” as trying to stave away Communist influence — in the form of water fluoridation.

City staff say they are working towards a report that combines questions asked by council members and the information included in the two briefings. Council members expect that report in December.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.