When the Austin City Council seeks to justify its policy of ignoring Austin citizens’ anti-water fluoridation input in favor of its own relentlessly pro-fluoride stance it turns for support to a man with no toxicology expertise, no dental background, and strong ties to the federal Centers for Disease Control – promoter-in-chief since Day One of fluoridated water for every man, woman and child in the USA from cradle to grave.
Philip P. Huang (rhymes with “wrong”), MD, MPH, medical director of the Austin Travis County Health and Human Services Department, is the slender reed to whom these so-called public servants cling to validate their increasingly non-tenable position. It’s best to let Huang’s own CV tell the story. Having received a BA in civil engineering from Rice University in 1982, he decided to become a doctor instead. He then enrolled at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas, graduating with an MD degree in 1986. From 1986-89 he served his internship/residency at Austin’s Brackenridge Hospital, emerging with a specialization in family practice: an area whose subject matter is comparable to that of a general practitioner. Although he held the position of Chief Resident during 1989, it appears he never hung out his own shingle. Instead, he was soon off to Boston for a year of polishing at the Harvard School of Public Health, whose mission is “to advance the public’s health through learning, discovery and communication.” Though that august institution claims to post descriptions of the courses, the links all appear to be broken: from their titles, few if any seem to deal with the actual science and art of medicine. At any rate, Huang received his MPH in 1989, then lingered for an additional year as a work/study intern with the Harvard Center for Health Communication.
In 1990, he moved on to the big time at the CDC in Atlanta, where he remained for two very important years in the title of epidemic intelligence service officer. Undoubtedly, he forged important contacts at the agency during that time. It would seem he also discovered the wellspring of federal grant money freely available for anti-tobacco projects. During 1991, the year he gave his first anti-smoking presentations—on tobacco advertisements and children—at professional meetings, he also presented on disease-causing blue-green algae-like bacteria. But from that time forward to today the lion’s share of his professional presentations, as well as his mile-long list of publications, have trod the safe and well-funded terrain of smoking prevention. 1992 brought him to the Texas Department of Health (reorganized as the Texas Department of State Health Services in 2004), where he remained in several positions until his jump, in 2008 to the Austin Travis County Health Department—an agency which itself has since suffered a renaming, to its present Austin Travis County Public Health and Human Services Department. The title of Huang’s current position: Medical Director/Health Authority is revealing in itself. Health Authority has that perfect ring. A look at his resume over the years suggests a tirelessly active, politically-skilled individual, adept at attracting honors, committee posts and money from early on. The kinds of career-enhancing awards and Who’s Who listings and high level appointments he’s racked rarely come unbidden even to the well-qualified, but require a certain level of self-promotion. One particularly interesting appointment is his membership between 1992 and 2008 on the Texas Diabetes Council. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition—extremely common in our population—well-known to be aggravated by fluoride. What emerges, without fanfare, is an outstanding talent for getting major CDC grants for anti-cigarette-related activities. Huang’s long-cultivated reputation for expertise in tobacco matters (though not the hard-science aspects) begins in the early 1990’s. Of the 17 post-1992 publications his CV lists, 16 pertain to smoking and over a third of those are specifically CDC-sponsored. His papers tend to be of a statistical/ sociological nature. None involve any hands-on biological or toxicological research.
So what qualifies him to be the arbiter of fluoride safety for the masses? Nothing. Watching Huang’s recent performance before the City Council and its satellite Public Health and Human Services Committee, as he glowingly reported on his latest multi-million dollar CDC grants before a rapt, appreciative audience, one cannot resist speculating that this is the principal raison d’etre for his placement in his current position. Here, his record is indeed impressive. In 2009, he snagged a 2-year $7.5 million grant exclusively for anti-smoking programs: an achievement which spawned an explosion of flashy public relations campaigns (including a 30-second TV spot that cost a cool $250,000) as the grant period drew to a close.
This cost $250,000 to make and air. . .Not to disparage the very real importance of smoking-related health issues: imagine what that same amount – $7.5 million – or a half, or a third, or even a quarter of it, could buy in terms of dental care for the economically disadvantaged children the toxic placebo called fluoride is supposed to be “helping.” Mobile dental clinics…vouchers…toothpaste and toothbrushes…dental hygiene education for parents and children…But that’s not how things operate in the upside-down world of grant-seeking, where projects are driven by infusions of outside money and priorities based more on available funding than need. The Centers for Disease Control pushes water fluoridation in place of real dental care. The same agency that invests millions to keep us away from the tobacco poison wants us to consume the fluoride poison. This fall, the expired $7.5 million anti-tobacco grant was superseded by a more modest but longer-running one. The latest CDC funding provides just over $1 million per year over the next five years, to address smoking and other issues, including childhood obesity (an important health problem but dealt with as if in a vacuum). Studies, spawning programs spawning partnerships, spawning endless seminars: it’s a self-perpetuating bureaucracy’s dream come true. One has to wonder then: what would happen if the Prince of Grants, as I think of Huang, were to be undermined in any way? Even on the unrelated subject of water fluoridation? I suspect the Council members have had this in mind too as they’ve sat through his several cut-and-paste CDC talking point presentations delivered with smug assurance that his title of authority, however hollow, would always prevail. Is it possible – were he seriously challenged, even opposed – that the CDC’s beneficence might fade along with his authority? t’s a question worth pondering and I presume the Council has done their share and drawn their own conclusions. I myself can’t answer it. But this I do know: if the Council members wouldn’t turn to family practitioner Huang for open heart surgery or a kidney transplant, they shouldn’t turn to him for advice on toxicology: another specialty in which he lacks the appropriate training. And leave the whole city at his mercy too.