(Where’d the hotel go? I don’t see it…)
THE WAVY BLUE STEEL SCULPTURE THRUSTING SKYWARD AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF GRAND RAPIDS’ SWANK MARRIOTT HOTEL CELEBRATES ONE OF MODERN MAN’S MONUMENTAL STUPIDITIES: COMMUNITY WATER FLUORIDATION
The year was 1944. In the fever of wartime activity, top-level government and industry personnel, nervous about suspected harmful effects of the fluoride compounds essential to metal smelting and enriched uranium production, boldly planned a massive human experiment, using the populations of the paired towns of Newburgh and Kingston, NY as guinea pigs. They would spike Newburgh’s drinking water with fluoride ion at a one part per million concentration, leaving Kingston to serve as a control. The long range study of potential health damage from fluoride exposure was presented to Newburgh residents as a chance to receive a free new health benefit. Standing in the way of the scheme was Trendley Dean, the U.S. Public Health Service’s top fluoridation scientist, who years earlier had been sent forth by his bosses to “discover” a positive correlation between fluoride and decay-resistant teeth. Dean had obliged. But now he expressed concerns over toxicity. He opposed the experiment, citing cumulative effects such as bone changes and cataracts he had observed in people who consumed large amounts of fluoride naturally-present in their drinking water sources. The pro-fluoridationists retreated in frustration. Three months later, Dean abruptly flip-flopped. He now supported water fluoridation unreservedly — not for Newburgh but for Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he would be a principal investigator in a 10-year study comparing Grand Rapids schoolchildren’s teeth with neighboring, unfluoridated Muskegon. The investigation commenced in 1945. In 1951, however, with preliminary results showing no appreciable difference in oral health between the two communities, Muskegon fluoridated its water supply too, removing the control and rendering the data valueless. Trendley Dean fared very well professionally following his spectacular about-face. In 1948, he was named the first director of the newly-established National Institute of Dental Health, and he headed up the American Dental Association for many years. He’s a hero in Grand Rapids, where his name is invoked in reverential tones. ‘ By 1995, thanks to the ADA’s and CDC’s slick, lavishly funded campaigns, sixty percent of our nation’s municipal water systems were fluoridated. Fluorosis had become widespread nd bone diseases and thyroid problems were skyrocketing – with no corresponding dental benefits to show. In Grand Rapids where it all began, the town fathers sought an appropriate way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the debacle. Rejecting as too expensive and too showy a proposal to raise a giant molar on a pole in the Grand River, they settled instead for a simple, tasteful marble slab bearing pro-fluoride text and donors’ names, and boasting its own built-in drinking fountain, It was placed downtown in a public space. Over the next decade, both weather and vandalism took their toll on the monument. When, in 1995, plans were announced to build a tony new Marriott virtually on top of it, the city’s dental community decided to replace rather than relocate it. They gathered sponsors to create a more “artistic” tribute and commissioned Cyril Lixenberg, an affable citizen of Amsterdam, to design and carry it out. “Steel Water,” a 33-foot high, 10,000 pound twisted mass of sky-blue painted steel, was dedicated on September 14, 2007. Though the cost of the work—a gift to the city from the donors—hasn’t been publicized, the sponsorship list reads like a Who’s Who of well-heeled fluoride pushers: the ADA, the Michigan Dental Association, the West Michigan District Dental Society, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the Michigan Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the Grand Rapids Dental Hygienists’ Society, the Kent County Dental Society, the Muskegon District Dental Society, and individual dentists. Dr. Raymond Gist, a local trustee of the American Dental Association, praised the citizens of Grand Rapids—and their parents, the original guinea pigs—-for their approval and participation in the city’s historic fluoridation trials. “. . .But our work is not finished. I hope this magnificent sculpture dedicated today will stand as a visible reminder not only of the historic event that occurred in Grand Rapids, but inspire others to continue efforts to bring the benefits of fluoridation to the rest of the nation,” he gushed. Mayor George Heartwell concurred in praising the fluoridation pioneers’ “bold move.” Fast forward eight months. On May 6, 2008, Cortland (“Corky”) Overmyer, Grand Rapids’ Environmental Sustainability Director, publicly revealed that he was working with scientists at Grand Valley State University and other water quality specialists to evaluate fluoride’s safety and determine whether it should continue to be added to the city’s water supply. Overmyer’s concern arose from recent scientific studies linking fluoride to potential thyroid and kidney problems. “Because we’re trying to eliminate toxins in our community, I thought we should study this issue,” he said, as reported by the Grand Rapids Press. His remarks came at Brownfields 2008, a national redevelopment conference held in Detroit. Fluoridation opponents everywhere cheered the news. Dr. Paul Connett , founder of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) noted the development with approval in the May 12 FAN Bulletin. The Chicago Tribune took the story farther in a June 23 article by Tim Jones. “This has been on my radar screen for a while,” the Trib quoted Overmyer. And, declared an optimistic Paul Connett: “If Grand Rapids falls, that could be the beginning of the end of fluoride.” But the piece also indicated that Overmyer was taking heat I’m just trying to be honest and open, and I’ve become a lightning rod,” he complained to the paper, noting that he had “teeth marks in his backside” from fluoridationists ferociously defending their turf. “I had no idea [fluoride] was that sensitive an issue.” Mayor Heartwell and Overmyer’s own dentist—both of whom refused to talk to the reporter—had attacked him, as did large dental and medical groups like the West Michigan District Dental Associatio Nonetheless, he expressed his determination to press on with a review of fluoride’s impact on the 11 communities served by the city’s water system. Natural News carried a short rehash the Tribune article containing nothing new. That was the last mention I could find in the mainstream press. In April, 2009, just shy of the one-year anniversary of Corky Overmyer’s startling announcement, I became curious about the status of his investigation, so I fired off the following email: “Last spring I read that your department is looking at abandoning the practice of water fluoridation in Grand Rapids. However, with the exception of one minor update in November, I’ve heard nothing further on the subject. Can you please tell me where the situation currently stands? Thank you.” His reply was prompt and to the point: “The City is not looking at abandoning fluoridation at this time.” I couldn’t resist a followup: (the devil made me do it): “Is the scientific review that led to that conclusion of public record? I’d like to read it if it’s available. Thank you again.” This time the response was a tad irritable: “There is no political, administrative, medical or technical interest in pursuing this at this time as instructed by the Mayor, City Manager, Water Department Manager, or Dental community. The matter is not negotiable and is not being considered any longer.” I let him be after that. Poor Mr. Overmye: unaware of a deeper agenda, he had probably believed that eliminating toxins from the community was central to his job description. He certainly couldn’t have expected old friends and colleagues to turn on him..And I’m sure he values his job. Musing on the collective fluoride fantasy of Grand Rapids’ ruling elite, it occurred to me that if water fluoridation worked as claimed, the city’s entire population should enjoy extraordinarily good dental health after more than 60 years, which in turn should be reflected in a relative lack of need for dentists. So how many dentists are practicing in Grand Rapids today? For the answer to that question, I turned to the online Yellow Pages and punched in “Dentists” – “Grand Rapids, MI Up popped a raw number: 924. Next, I consulted the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Finder page and pulled up 193,627 in 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That’s about one dentist for every 210 people. By way of comparison, I looked up Portland, Oregon, which bills itself as the largest unfluoridated city in the U.S. Portland’s 2007 population was 550,396, yet it had only 629 dentists listed. Somehow, Portland manages to get by on a ratio of one dentist per 875 people. So why does Grand Rapids need so many dentists?We know that workers go where there’s a demand, and dentists are no exception. It would seem there’s considerably more of a demand in long-fluoridated Grand Rapids than in never-fluoridated Portland. Perhaps they’re kept busy treating teeth disfigured by fluorosis. Perhaps it’s the difference in socioeconomic status: Grand Rapids has a per capita income of $19,593 as opposed to Portland’s $27,941. Any observant perso knows that good dental health comes not from fluoridated water but from proper diet and oral hygiene; factors which correlate positively with income level. Rather than spend money on raising monuments to a toxic placebo, a community might be better served by investing in toothpaste and programs to teach adults and children about the basics of regular brushing and flossing – perhaps even in local dental clinics. But that’s not how they see it in Grand Rapids, Michigan, first to swallow the fluoride myth; first to be gulled, and proud of it.