The stories coming from Flint, Michigan about children sickened by lead-contaminated tap water rapidly drew the attention of the rest of America. Now there is research piling up linking the decades old practice of fluoridation and a worsening of the lead poisoning crisis.

Lead Pipes and Fluoride

Fluoride is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust and is found naturally in soil, water, foods, and minerals. It can also be synthesized in a laboratory.  What many people do not know is fluoride can leach lead from water pipes.

Lead pipes were banned in the U.S. in 1986, but millions of gallons of municipal tap water still travels through old lead pipes and lead-containing brass fixtures (like faucets.)  When fluoride is added to the drinking water supply it leaches the lead out of the pipes and into the tap water we drink.

Why Is Fluoride Added To Drinking Water Supplies?

Fluorosilic acid is a corrosive fluoride chemical that is obtained from the emission scrubbers used in the phosphate industry.  FSA is added to drinking water to help prevent tooth decay after scientists in the 1930’s discovered people living in areas with naturally fluoridated water had fewer cavities and tooth decay.

Fluoride is extremely helpful in preventing cavities because it protects teeth from the demineralizing effects of acids on teeth produced by the combination of sugars and bacteria present in people’s mouths.  Fluoride helps with remineralization, especially for children as they lose baby teeth and form permanent teeth.

Fluoride Makes Water More Acidic

In the past few years, water department engineers have found that adding FSA to drinking water increases its acidity.  This makes the water more corrosive and unhealthy for the body as acidity leads to many medical conditions and cancer tumors are known to thrive in an acidic environment.

In the case of Flint, Michigan, drinking water was being obtained from the chlorine-laden Flint River which, combined with FSA, made the water much more corrosive and leached toxic levels of lead out of old pipes that provided water to its residents.

Though Flint, Michigan is in the news right now for lead-laden water, this is not a new problem.  Back in the early 1990’s, the water departments in Maryland and Washington noted a significant drop in lead levels after fluoridation programs were terminated.

The combination of old lead pipes and fluoridated water with lowered pH levels makes water dangerously corrosive and easily contaminated with lead.

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Debate over Fluoridation Programs

Controversy rages on about the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water.  Supporters of the practice say the dramatic decrease in cavities and tooth decay especially among children makes it a good practice. They also say there is no concrete evidence that ingesting small amounts of fluoride is harmful; and that the lifelong health benefits to teeth make it a public health service.

Opponents of fluoridation say that adding fluoride to drinking water is unsafe because levels can easily change, leading to fluoride poisoning.  They also say it is just a money-making scheme for the phosphate industry, that instead of having to clean up their emissions scrubbers of FSA and properly dispose of it, they sell it for profit to cities for their drinking water.  Opponents of fluoridation also state that fluoride is a drug given to the public yet has never been approved by the FDA and that each household should be able to choose whether or not their water is artificially fluoridated or not.

The Deadly Effects of High Lead Levels in the Blood Stream

Regardless of what side you are on, there is no disputing the deadly effects of high lead levels in the bloodstream.  The long-term health consequences of lead exposure like headaches, sleep problems, diminished cognitive function, fatigue, anemia and even kidney failure are largely irreversible.  Since the CDC had conceded that fluoridation increases the acidity of water and leads to increased levels of lead in drinking water, parents should know the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning and stay informed about this public health crisis.