Is Water Fluoridation Safe?

The short answer is yes, it is, but it’s easy to understand why some people think it isn’t.

When we look at chemical toxicity, we need to understand that there are several different classes.

Firstly, there are chemicals for which any level of exposure is undesirable, as with sufficient exposure over time they will have an effect on our health, possibly with lethal outcomes. In this category we have asbestos, lead, and any of the tars and other combustion products in cigarettes.

There are other chemicals, however, which although toxic in higher concentrations, are either completely harmless, or even beneficial at low levels. In this category we have most transition metals such as copper, zinc and iron.

And fluoride.

But the trouble is that this is not obvious if you look at the data, and fluoride is a case in point. If you look at the MSDS for sodium fluoride you find that it is an S7 poison – the highest category. Little wonder that some people are leery about having it in their water.

So what does fluoride do in your body?

Mostly, it reacts with your bones. In this regard it is unusual, as most other toxins attack your organs somehow. But the fluoride attacks your bones. This is why in Breaking Bad it is the chemical of choice for disposing of bodies…..

So if you are exposed to enough of it to be harmful it causes horrible internal burns which are very difficult to treat. Whenever I have had to handle hydrofluoric acid (it’s used to make industrial strength brick cleaner) I’ve gone the full monty in terms of protective gear.

But in water it’s nowhere near this strength. The fluoridating agent in municipal waters is fluorosilicic acid, a by-product of aluminium production, and it gives a level of fluoridation of about 2mg/L.

At this concentration it is too low to be harmful – no matter how much water you drink – but it still reacts with your teeth. I don’t think anyone quite understands the mechanism, but it would be some sort of inorganic composite where the fluoride combines with the calcium phosphate (that your teeth are made of) to produce some sort of calcium fluorophosphate, that is in some way chemically resistant to the chemical decay process (caused by lactic acid that is made by anaerobic bacteria).

And this has certainly been confirmed by every study in this area – so you may drink municipal water – and use toothpaste, with absolute confidence that your teeth are being protected.

Shannon Lush Gets it Wrong #1

A substantial amount of what Shannon Lush says about the chemistry of cleaning is wrong. This shouldn’t surprise us, as she is not a chemist.

Paramount among these is the oft-given advice of mixing bicarb with vinegar. I have heard her say on air that this “makes hydrogen peroxide” and that’s what does the cleaning.

This is quite incorrect, and I and several of my colleagues have sent her emails in this regard down through the years. She apparently now realises this, as on Tony Delroy’s show on nightlife this evening she said that it “forces oxygen into things”

I was unable to get an explanation of this, however. For her benefit, when you mix bicarb soda and vinegar together, the reaction products are sodium acetate, water and carbon dioxide, not oxygen, and none of these compounds have any cleaning properties whatever.

The balanced equation is:

NaHCO3 + CH3COOH = NaCH3COO + H2O + CO2

But let it never said I wasn’t open-minded. I now invite Shannon Lush to answer this question, and I’ll print her answer in full on this site.

Other things that she said that were wrong (off the top of my head) were

1. You cannot remove silicone (from Mr Sheen) from a plasma TV. I’m not sure why you’d want to remove Mr Sheen, as it is a terrific general purpose cleaner, but it can be removed with Shellite (from a hardware store) – that’s what painters use to pretreat automotive surfaces that have often been polished with silicone polishes.

2. You cannot use an acidic cleaner to clean marble. In fact marble is incredibly chemically resilient, which is why we still have marble structures going back to Roman times, and you can use hydrochloric acid on it if you want. But if the problem was mould and mildew, you’d use caustic soda on it.

3. You can mostly replace your laundry powder with bicarb soda. This advice displays an utter ignorance of both the chemistry of bicarb soda and washing powders. Washing powders are highly sophisticated formulas that contain up to 9 or 10 different components (surfactants, enzymes, oxidizers, builders, alkaline salts, fluorescing agents, antiredeposition agents, free-flow agents, fragrance, softeners), and you simply cannot replace these with any one chemical – particularly bicarb soda, which has almost no cleaning properties whatever.