Connett VS. Fierstien in Boyne City fluoride debate; who do you think won?

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Benjamin Gohs

News Editor

Who won last Saturday’s debate between the water specialist and the toxicology expert on the pros and cons of fluoridation is anybody’s guess.
However, a thorough and invigorating discussion was apparent by the back-and-forth between Dr. Paul Connett, a Ph.D in chemistry/toxicology who has been researching fluoride since the mid-1990s, and David Fierstien, who has more than 20 years of experience in water and wastewater and is the current water/wastewater operations manager for the City of East Jordan.
Each man had time for an opening statement during the Oct. 11 debate at the Boyne District Library. The debaters then each had time to pose questions to each other, answer those questions, speak on topics of their choosing and close. Fierstien and Connett then took questions from the audience.
“The citizens of Boyne City will have to make a decision about water fluoridation in a few weeks,” Fierstien said in his opening statement. “Of course, fluoridating water at the optimal levels of .7 to 1.2 parts per million is a proven health benefit in that it helps to prevent tooth decay.”
Fierstien cited correspondence with a national fluoridation engineer at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) who said, “Every systematic scientific panel that has looked at the use of fluoride in drinking water worldwide have been in agreement that it is safe, healthy and effective.”
Fierstien added, “There is a very vocal minority who is determined that fluoride stay out of the Boyne City water supply. They are so determined that they brought in the professional debater Dr. Paul Connett from New York, which, in itself, should raise some red flags. Dr. Connett has 18 years and over 5,000 studies on fluoride from which he can cherry-pick data and statistics to support his marginal conclusions.”
Fierstien said there wasn’t enough time to go through every example where Connett has been misleading in his writings on fluoridation, but Fierstien did address a few alleged misrepresentations.
Fierstien addressed Connett’s claim that the CDC doesn’t want people to know the truth about fluoride. Connett claims on his Fluoride Action Network website that a former CDC fluoridation engineer refers to fluoride as a “waste-product” of the phosphate fertilizer industry.
However, Fierstien pointed out that the letter actually refers to substances like sodium fluoridate as a “byproduct” and not a “waste-product” which are two entirely different things.
“Never once in this letter does (fluoridation engineer) use the word ‘waste-product.’ These are two different words with two different meanings, and Dr. Connett knows this because he is a self-described authority on waste management,” said Fierstien, who went on to explain that a waste-product was useless and that a byproduct was like leather from cattle processing or wood pellets from the lumber industry.
“So, if I was to do what he did, I would say the leather in Dr. Connett’s shoes are waste-products of the cattle murdering industry, because you want to make it sound as horrible as possible,” Fierstien said.
Fierstien commented on Connett’s misquotation with some indignation.
“What really blows me away about this is that this misquotation is on the same page, about two inches below the actual quote, and what this says to me is that this guy has so little respect for the intelligence of his readers that he thinks they are so stupid he can misquote someone on the same page where the actual quote is,” Fierstien said. “If he has that kind of audacity, imagine what he thinks he can get away with when you have to look it up and verify.”
He added, “Every time this man quotes someone it needs to be doubted and scrutinized and verified because he does not have a good track record when it comes to accurately quoting people.”
Fierstien said the CDC official Connett misquoted did not refer to all fluoride products as “waste-products.”
“fluorosilicic acid, which is what Boyne City used for fluoridation, has many other uses—although you wouldn’t know it if you visited his (Connett’s) website,” Fierstien said… “Other uses for fluorosilicic acid include solar panel fabrication, computer chip fabrication, glass etching and chemical feedstock for producing other chemicals. This is not a waste-product. This is a byproduct.”
He added, “To misquote someone is a lie, immediately, and to say that fluoride products are waste-products is a second lie.”
Fierstien also addressed Connett’s claim that his opponents simply have not read his book entitled “The Case against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There.”
“In East Jordan, which is not far from here, the city council [sic] did read your book and they voted 4-2 against you,” Fierstien said.
Fierstien then introduced a portion of chapter 25 of Connett’s book (which he co-authored with two others), which an anti-fluoride activist gave to the East Jordan City Commission in hopes they would also stop fluoridating their municipal water supply.
In the chapter, Connett discusses the usefulness and relative safety of chlorine used in water chlorination, which is used to purify water, and how it is different than the use of fluoride, which is intended to prevent tooth decay. Fierstien agreed that chlorination was good for mankind.
“He’s saying chlorination is a good thing. It makes water safe to drink, and I completely agree with this,” said Fierstien before addressing the claim by the anti-fluoride camp that fluoride is toxic. “Now, Dr. Connett knows that chlorine is so dangerous it’s been used as a weapon of war and it’s also considered a weapon of mass destruction. In fact, a canister of chlorine gas, like the ones used in large water treatment plants … are so deadly that, if one were to leak and erupt, it would kill everyone within a city block…. He also knows that chlorine is added (to drinking water) in such minute amounts—about one part per million—that it won’t hurt you.”
Fierstien said the same goes for fluoride which, at high doses can be harmful, but at its recommended dose is considered by most health officials to be harmless.
Fierstien pointed out a section of Connett’s book which makes the claim that fluoride is unsafe because a lesser amount of a different substance is unsafe. Fierstien noted that one has nothing to do with the other.
He added, “I’m not Spock but his (Connett’s) logic is a joke.”
Fierstien then cited comments from several officials and scientists who claim Connett misrepresented their studies.
Fierstien said he saw the negative effects of societies without fluoridation while he was working in Afghanistan as a wastewater specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense.

• Connett opened by saying that Fierstien did what many proponents of fluoridation do by claiming fluoridation is fine, and that its critics are the problem.
“Most of his speech is trying to discredit me or make you feel that I misrepresent the data,” Connett said…. “I would hope, at some point, he would give a cogent argument for why you have to put fluoride in the water. That’s what I thought the pro-fluoridation debate would be.”
Connett has studied this issue for 18 years, first as a professor of environmental chemistry/toxicology, and now as director of the Fluoride Action Network.
Connett said, in the four years since his book was published, there has been no written response from the pro-fluoridation camp.
“I will argue that fluoridation is unusual, unnatural, unethical, unnecessary, unsafe, ineffective and there are better ways to fight tooth decay in low-income families, which has been demonstrated in places like Scotland,” he said… “The vast majority of countries do not fluoridate their water, including 97 percent of Western Europe.”
Connett said, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the instances of tooth decay in 12-year-olds is decreasing as quickly, if not faster, in countries that do not fluoridate their water.
“Fluoridation promoters stress that fluoride is naturally-occurring… They are confusing geology with biology,” Connett said. “The level of fluoride that occurs in water is a vagary of which rocks the water has flowed through. That has nothing to do with biology.”
Connett added that, just because something occurs naturally does not make it safe, saying that arsenic can occur naturally in water and is poisonous.
Connett said if nature wanted fluoride to be used by humans, human breast milk would contain more of it.
“The level of fluoride in mothers milk is very very low. So, nature’s determined, after millions or thousands of years of experimentation that the baby does not need fluoride,” he said. “And, in fact, the bottle-fed baby in a fluoridated community in the United States is getting between 175 and 300 times more fluoride than nature intended. So, mothers milk protects our babies from fluoride—we are circumventing that protection by putting fluoride in the tap water.”
Connett said it is unethical to use the water supply to deliver any medical treatment. Connett said you cannot control the dose of a substance in the water, and it forces people to take the substance without their consent.
“He’s (Fierstien) referred to a hundred organizations that endorse fluoridation,” said Connett. “Not one single one of those agencies accepts any responsibility for any harm that may be caused.”
He added that countries which fluoridate their water are doing a poor job of studying fluoride’s effects on human health.
“There is not one single biochemical process in the body that needs fluoride,” Connett said.
According to Connett, the CDC has stated that fluoride is useful only when it is used topically.
“This admission by CDC should have ended fluoridation there and then,” Connett said. “Because, if fluoride works primarily from the outside of the tooth, not from the inside of the body, why swallow fluoride and expose every tissue in the body to a known toxic substance when you can brush it on your teeth and spit it out?”
Connett said fluoride is harmful to numerous processes in the body and showed the estimated average intake of fluoride for various age ranges.
“American children are being hugely overexposed to fluoride from several sources, not just fluoridated water, and the evidence for that is the increasing prevalence of dental fluorosis,” he said, adding that 41 percent of American children aged 12 to 15 have some form of dental fluorosis—3.6 percent of those children have what is considered moderate to severe fluorosis.
Connett said his biggest concern is fluoride’s potential affects on the brain.
“The weight of evidence shows that fluoride is a potent neurotoxicant, i.e. it can interfere with brain chemistry,” he said… “There are over a hundred animal studies which have shown fluoride damages the brain.”
He added that there are 30 studies which show fluoride affects the learning and memory abilities of rats.
In many of the studies, fluoride was paired with another toxic substance, such as lead.
Connett also mentioned the more than two dozen Chinese studies on fluoride in some villages that showed IQ levels could be as much as 7 points lower among children in high-fluoride areas. The studies also showed that adults in those areas tended to have IQs that were higher than normal.

• Fierstien then addressed the claim by fluoride opponents that fluoridation of water is forced medication.
“If ever there was an issue worthy of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s the idea that a local government (is) forcing its citizens to take medicine against their will,” he said. “This sounds like a huge unconstitutional infringement, doesn’t it? If there was even a speck of truth to it, the U.S. Supreme Court would have been all over it. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has denied review of fluoridation cases 13 times, citing that no substantial federal or Constitutional questions were involved.”
Fierstien then read a list of diseases attributed by anti-fluoride activists to fluoride, which ranged from autism and cancer to cardiovascular disease and memory loss.
“If these health problems are cause by water fluoridation, I have to ask ‘Where are the personal injury attorneys?’ They should have been all over this,” he said. “There are class action suits going on all the time … but never once has there been a successful class action suit against a municipality for putting fluoride in its water.”

• Fierstien said he was way out of his league in debating Connett because Connett has had 18 years to cherry-pick from thousands of studies to support his claims.
“The reason that you’re out of your league is the people that should have been debating this, the leaders of the American Dental Association, representatives of government … refused to debate, and you courageously came in and filled the gap,” said Connett. “Don’t complain now because you’re outmatched. That was your choice.”

The debaters then entered
into a question and answer
session against one another
Connett asked for a response to the following statement from the ADA: “Individual dentists must be convinced that they need not be familiar with scientific reports of laboratory and field investigations on fluoridation to be effective participants in the promotion program, and that non-participation is over-neglect of professional responsibility.”
Fierstien said his response is that he would first need to verify the quote was accurate. He added that he would not respond because he was not a dentist.
Connett then asked Fierstien what he know about the CDC and fluoridation.
Fierstien reaffirmed that Connett had misquoted a former fluoridation specialist at the CDC.
Connett said there is a group within the CDC that advocates for fluoridation, but that the entire CDC does not necessarily promote fluoridation. He asked who wrote the statement that fluoridation is one of the top 10 health boons of the 20th Century, then said it was written by an economist and a dentist who were not qualified to opine on fluoride.

• Connett said if the effects of fluoride even might be causing decreased IQ in children, the practice of water fluoridation should be ended.
“We know that the target for fluoridation is low-income families,” Connett said. “The last people, the last children in this country that need a few more IQ points taken away from them are children from low-income families.”
Connett said a randomized control trial—which he called the “gold standard” of studies—has never been performed on the supposed positive effects of fluoridation.
“Why on Earth haven’t they done the standard test to determine that … swallowing fluoride is effective?” he said.
Connett added that the idea that the rest of the world was seeing decreased tooth decay with decreased fluoridation while America was seeing decreased tooth decay with fluoridation was “utter poppycock.”

• Fierstien opened his Q&A period by asking Connett how much chlorine is in mothers milk. Connett said he had no idea.
Fierstien challenged Connett on his designation of fluoride as a medicine, saying that prune juice can be used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, and that just because a substance helps a person’s health, that doesn’t make it a drug or medicine, as is asserted by those who claim fluoridation is forced medication.
Connett said the FDA considers fluoride an unapproved drug.
Fierstien asked if water was also a drug, since it treats dehydration.
Connett responded that Fierstien was quibbling over semantics.
Fierstien addressed a conspiracy theory that the makers of fluorosilicic acid pay municipalities to fluoridate their water as a kickback. Fierstien, who works as East Jordan’s water/wastewater manager, said there is no record of any moneys coming from such entities. However, he did find a grant program operated by the insurance company Delta Dental, which offers funds to governments for both smoking cessation and water fluoridation programs in order to improve the overall health of the citizenry.
“Why would they do that? Because insurance companies do three things: they make money, they study data and statistics to help them make money, and they pay out claims,” Fierstien said. “They really like to make money and they really hate to pay out claims. So, what they do, is study all of the available data on any given issue to help them make money and to help them reduce the risk of paying out claims.”
Fierstien said the insurance companies have looked at the same data that Connett has observed and decided that they will save money on claims by supporting water fluoridation efforts.

• Connett addressed Fierstien’s use of the term “cherry-picking” information from studies, asking for specific examples.
Fierstien said he trusts the greed of the insurance companies to know what they are doing in order to make money.
Fierstien said the rats in at least one of the studies were given 75 to 100 parts per million doses of fluoride, and that that is not comparable to the .7 to 1.2 parts per million humans receive in fluoridated water.
Connett asked if that one study then negated the results of other studies.
Fierstien said the sheer number of organizations in support of fluoridation, and his estimation of Connett as an unreliable source are enough evidence for him to ignore the studies Connett cited.
“You’re nitpicking rather than addressing the essential issues,” Connett said. “Is this practice likely to cause harm? You say ‘no,’ based upon what?”

• Connett then addressed some of Fierstien’s claims. He said there were at least three lawsuits found in favor of removing fluoride from drinking water but that they were overturned on jurisdictional grounds. Connett did not state the specific cases involved but did mention an ongoing class action lawsuit spearheaded by attorney Chris Nidel (Nemphos vs. Nestle Waters North America.)

• Fierstien asked Connett if he has ever studied the effects of fluoridation. Connett said “no” but that he has studied the available literature, adding that pro-fluoride experts have not published any retorts to his book.

• In Fierstien’s summation, he compared the current movement to end water fluoridation to the Salem witch hunts and the Holocaust, in that all a group’s problems were blamed on a single entity, in this case the idea is that fluoride is responsible for countless ailments.
“Is it really likely that a guy who uses skewed logic, misquotations and misrepresentation of data is right, and the following individuals and organizations are wrong?” Fierstien said before naming a list of pro-fluoride agencies including the WHO,  CDC, MDEQ, the Canadian Dental Association and many more.

• “Just as I expected, David has relied on endorsements,” Connett responded. “He hasn’t quoted a single scientific paper to back his arguments up.”
Connett added that, before any significant studies on fluoride had been performed, the substance’s use had already been endorsed, leaving a question as to how anyone knew whether fluoridation worked, or its true affects on health.
Connett said the largest law firm in Canada is suing over the issue of fluoridation as forced medication.
Connett said the majority of those officials who disagree with him on fluoridation know very little about the subject.
“You are taking, at face value, the words from organizations that have been promoting this practice for years and years and years,” he said.
Connett said the WHO has stated that populations that intend to fluoridate should study their population’s current fluoride levels beforehand.
Connett closed by saying tooth decay is a function of poverty, which comes from poor diet, poor dental hygiene habits and lack of education about both.