In 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first US city to fluoridate the public water supply.  The idea quickly caught on, and the controversy began soon after: in growing numbers, a vocal minority has raised concerns about fluoride’s role in a broad range of health problems.

Fluoridation critics suggest fluoride exposure may be implicated in physical symptoms spanning gastrointestinal problems, low fertility, thyroid disease, endocrine disruption, arthritis and cancer.  Government health advisors disagree, arguing the benefits to developing teeth outweigh any established risks. 

Irrefutable evidence is hard to come by, due to the nature of the debate: in all major public health research, so many factors overlap that it can be impossible to either prove or disprove a condition’s cause. And a controlled study (deliberately administering high doses of fluoride on selected humans for decades) would be unethical.

Research reveals concerns

Harvard researchers were able to study health data for communities in China where high levels of fluoride are naturally present in the groundwater.  The results give cause for unease: “the children living in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas.”  The average difference was 7 points, and researcher Philippe Grandjean concluded that fluoride belongs among lead, mercury, and other poisons as a known neurotoxin and “chemical brain drain.”  Grandjean suggested the developing brain may be irreversibly damaged by fluoride exposure, and the exact “safe” thresholds, if any, are unknown.

More recent studies have indicated continuing concerns about chronic, low-level fluoride exposure and potential impacts on childhood IQ, calling for more studies to validate findings.

Until that time, more and more of us are ready to opt out of fluoridation. But how can we take out these minuscule, tasteless molecules added at the treatment plant?  If you’re serious about going fluoride-free, here are a few things to consider.

What doesn’t reduce fluoride exposure

  • The most popular water filters: The inexpensive activated-carbon pitchers and tap-attachments sold under the brand names Brita and Pur can’t remove fluoride.
  • Boiling your water: Boiling won’t help, as the fluoride does not evaporate easily like chlorine; as the volume of water decreases through boiling, the fluoride concentration actually goes up.
  • Drinking tea: Black and green tea as well as rooibos or “red tea” all contain high levels of natural fluoride; these beverages also provide beneficial antioxidants, but if you’re concerned that your overall fluoride intake may be excessive, consider reducing your tea consumption.
  • Eating processed foods: Highly processed foods, some non-stick cookware, some pharmaceuticals, non-organic grape juice and wine, and of course, fluoride toothpaste will all increase your overall fluoride consumption.

Home fluoride-removal systems that work

Berkey Water Purification System with PF2 Fluoride Filter

  • Low-tech: attractive countertop unit needs no hookups to plumbing or electrical systems.
  • Filters can be cleaned and reused for maximizing sustainability and cost-effectiveness.
  • Portable, can be used in the kitchen or off-grid to filter untreated water such as ponds and streams.
  • Broad-spectrum: gravity-fed micro-porous filtration removes pathogens, volatile organic compounds, synthetic organic chemicals, MTBE, arsenic, heavy metals, and physical contaminants from water.

This unit is our favorite because of its versatility, earth-friendliness, and overall effectiveness.  Note that the optional PF2 must be added for fluoride removal, as the Berkey on its own does not take out fluoride.

Reverse osmosis

  • RO systems are expensive ($200-$600 for basic home models, plus $50 filter changes 1-2 times per year), and discounted department store models may use inferior membranes, compromising performance.
  • Systems require electricity to run, adding to expense and fallibility.
  • RO filters often require a technician to install, if consumer is not experienced with plumbing.
  • The RO process discards 3-5 gallons of water for every gallon filtered.

The massive waste of water alone leads us to feel reverse osmosis is not a sustainable solution for an increasingly drought-ridden time, when every drop of potable water should be considered a precious resource.

Activated alumina

  • Frequently used in large-scale water treatment where excessive fluoride in groundwater is a problem.
  • While promoted to remove over 90% of fluoride at home, pH needs to be low and flow needs to be slow in order to achieve goals.
  • Frequent cartridge replacement to maintain effectiveness adds to initial costs.
  • Many variables make results uncertain, and repeated testing would be required to monitor system performance.

The survival still water purifier and desalinator

  • Turn to the Survival Still when you want to be prepared for any and all possibilities, including disasters.
  • This unit can make consistently pure water from any source in an emergency, even swimming pools, ponds, or seawater.
  • Removes all contaminants including radioactive isotopes and organic pathogens.
  • Requires some energy source to boil water, but no electricity.  Works with your kitchen pots for easy storage.

Solar stills

  • For the adventurous and mechanically inclined, experimenting with making your own solar distiller can provide an interesting challenge.
  • Distilled water has been stripped of beneficial minerals as well as contaminants; health advisers disagree about the risks and benefits of drinking distilled water.

For those of us without the time or skills to devote to plumbing and construction, a reasonably priced and effective home filter system can seem the holy grail of clean, worry-free water.

Buying water

  • Bottled water has been largely rejected by the environmental movement as representing a massive waste and mismanagement of resources in production, transport, and packaging.
  • Buying filtered water from water services or local stores (using reusable containers to fit a water dispenser) can be a short-term solution.  But most home filter systems will quickly pay for themselves, take up less space in your kitchen, and provide a more reliable clean water source.
  • Some packaged “spring water” can actually contain fluoride and other questionable minerals, so always review the water analysis carefully before buying.

The battles continue

It’s getting harder and harder to take a cool drink of water for granted.  Across the country, battles continue to rage in communities large and small over whether adding fluoride to the public water supply is a safe, common-sense public service, or a sinister act of government-sponsored health endangerment.  In Portland, Oregon, the impassioned debate centered around issues of personal choice and responsibility: if the facts are in question, who gets to decide what’s in their water?

Ultimately, Portlanders voted “no” to fluoride.  It’s a decision each family must make based on available information.  If your municipal water supply or private well contains unwanted fluoride, you have options to exercise your informed choice in your own home.

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