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Category / Global Issues

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NHS South Central – Fluoridation public consultation 15 November, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Water fluoridation has recently become a hot topic for me. I’m fron Sydney. Sydney and most major Australian metropolitan areas have an artificially fluoridated water supply. What does this mean? It means the “tap water” contains an added fluoride compound. I, like pretty much everyone else, grew up with the belief that fluoride was added to the water to keep your teeth healthy. That’s what it said on TV. That’s what the dentist said. Why should I question it?

Same reason as you should question anything really, and it perhaps seems strange that I hadn’t really questioned this particular thing before that I can think of.

Anyhow, as I said, Australia’s water supplies are (typically) fluoridated. As are many or most in the USA. I’m currently  living in the UK, and it isn’t the norm here. Yet. There are current proposals to introduce water fluoridation in to more areas. One such area is Southampton, and the NHS (National Health Service) is currently conducting a “public consultaiton” about it, inviting the public to express their views. I’ll note that the views are not considered as ‘votes’, so regardless of what the public has to say, the controlling body can still decide whatever it wants.

Given the massive bias in favour of fluoridation on their website, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what they might want.

I’m not a resident of the Southampton, but I decided to take some time out to fill in the Share your views response form anyway. Someone from the University of Birmingham is supposed to read it as part of an independent review. Meanwhile, I’m posting my answers here for everyone else to see. I haven’t corrected it (except where noted), but did add hyperlinks for your (and my!) convenience).


Share your views

Have your say: what do you think about putting fluoride in the water?

In 2009 the Board of South Central Strategic Health Authority will decide whether it is a good idea to put fluoride in the water supply. They will base their decision on research evidence, surveys, expert guidance and feedback from local people. The consultation is not a ‘vote’ so the option with the most support will not necessarily be chosen. It is more important for the Board to understand the reasons for your views and the pros and cons of putting fluoride in the water. Please spend a few minutes to let us know what you think. Feel free to attach a letter or additional pages.

1. Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Leave blank if you do not know or have no opinion.

The consultation document describes the evidence in a clear way

Response: Strongly disagree

Adjusting the level of fluoride in the water supply will help improve dental health

Response: Strongly disagree

I support increasing the level of fluoride in the water supply up to one part per million

Response: Strongly disagree

2. What are the main reasons that you support or disagree with putting fluoride in the water?

Reason 1

Essentially forcing people to take a medication or medicament is completely unethical; placing fluoride in the water supply makes it extremely difficult to avoid. This fluoridation program has been expressly indicated for relief to areas of lower socio-economic background, and as such, many of the people, even if they do want to avoid exposure to fluoride (for example those who suffer acute toxicity) will find it virtually impossible.

Reason 2

Fluorides are known poisons, and have never been proven by valid scientific research to be safe for consumption nor topical use at any concentration. Fluoridated water has also never been proven by valid scientific research to decrease the incidence of tooth decay (dental caries). There is valid scientific research that shows an INCREASE in the number of dental caries in children with an increase in the level of fluoride (the exact opposite of the intended benefit of water fluoridation), and fluoride is known to have significant health risks, especially to children and infants, the very group this program is intended to help. Even if we were to believe that fluoride was safe and that water fluoridation does decrease the level of tooth decay, the proposed program to introduce water fluoridation in some areas does not cover even most of the at-risk children this program is supposedly targeted on (as discovered by Stephen Peckham, BSc., MA(Econ).). This raises the question of, even assuming water fluoridation works, what to do about the remaining large portion of this group in need of attention.

Reason 3

Fluoride at one part per million only specifies the concentration in the water supply, and says nothing of the dose administered to any given person. Nor does it take into consideration a person’s level of fluoride exposure due to other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste, fluoride treatments from your dentist, fluoride in foods and in products such as baby formula. Even more alarmingly, the fabled “safe” 1ppm concentration is an “adult” strength which will be equally applied to children and infants. The 1ppm figure itself does not have any particular scientific basis – it is only thought to (or, more accurately, said to) provide enough “positive benefit” (keeping in mind no positive benefit has ever been proven) whilst keeping the incidence of undesirable “fluorisis” at around 10%. Even in that train of thinking, the 10% incidence of fluorisis is an underestimate, from evidence in areas that have introduced water fluoridation, and the number of people requiring expensive medical treatment for higher level fluorsis far outweighs the supposed cost reduction gained by introducing fluoridation in the first instance.

3. What are the main advantages and the main problems with putting fluoride in the water supply?

List any advantages, with most important at the top; List any problems, with most important at the top

Advantage 1

Some company/companies/persons will make a profit from dumping toxic waste into the water supply. Certainly an advantage for those involved, but not an advantage to the community.

Problem 1

Toxic waste will be dumped into the water supply. The chemicals used are not “pure” or in any sense “pharmaceutical grade” – the (already toxic) fluoride compounds put into water are often contaminated with lead, arsenic and other substances. Aside from the alarming health consequences from exposure to fluorides (from drinking water and other sources), fluorides are probably the most significant environmental pollutant; adding fluoride to the water supply is another form or source of fluoride pollution in the environment. The chemicals from water fluoridation tend to have negative impacts on infrastructure, leading to destruction of pipes and therefore additional costs and water supply problems.

Advantage 2

Fluoridating the water supply in Southampton and south west Hampshire will add weight to the argument, or public perception, of the safety and “normal” or “widespread” implementation of water fluoridation (and also the fluoridation of other products such as salt, milk, other foods and fluoride treatments), just as other existing examples of fluoridation are being used to justify the legitimacy of introducing fluoridation to the water supply in Southampton and south west Hampshire. This is an advantage to any company/companies/persons who might like to introduce (to profit from or otherwise) fluoridation in other areas and/or products, but not an advantage to the community.

Problem 2

Fluoridating the water supply in Southampton and south west Hampshire will add weight to the argument, or public perception, of the safety and “normal” or “widespread” implementation of water fluoridation (and also the fluoridation of other products such as salt, milk, other foods and fluoride treatments), just as other existing examples of fluoridation are being used to justify the legitimacy of introducing fluoridation to the water supply in Southampton and south west Hampshire. That is, the public perception of fluoride safety will be increased by the use or existence of fluoridation, absent of (and indeed contrary to) medical and scientific evidence. People will then, essentially, be a making medical desicions based on non-medical evidence, unwittingly endangering their health (and the health of those who otherwise object to fluoridation).

Advantage 3

Fluoridating the water supply in Southampton and south west Hampshire will, from historical evidence, probably increase the level of dental decay (or dental caries) in the local population (compared to not fluoridating the water supply and excluding other factors such as future increased education of access to dental treatment). This, and other adverse health efects, will be an advantage to companies/organisations/people who stand to profit from (or otherwise desire) an overall increase in the level of dental and other medical problems, supposing that the community will tend to insist that more be done to address the problem(s), but not an advantage for the community.

Problem 3

Fluoridating the water supply in Southampton and south west Hampshire will, from historical evidence, probably increase the level of dental decay (or dental caries) in the local population (compared to not fluoridating the water supply and excluding other factors such as future increased education of access to dental treatment). This is clearly in contradiction to the responsibility of the Southampton City Primary Care Trust, the organisation responsible for the health of the people in Southampton.

4. Are there any alternatives or things that health services should be doing to improve dental health?

Alternative 1

Improve access to dentists. Increase the number of dentists available to the community, and reduce the cost barrier. It is already known that access to dentists is a problem in the area, and there is no excuse not to address this problem. Almost by definition, children who don’t have their teeth checked are going to suffer from unchecked problems – if they (or the parents) are not initially made aware of the problem, the problem will almost certainly continue. Access to dentists could include the (re-)introduction of dental checks in schools so there is not additional burden for parents who might not have the time or other resources to make/attend dentist appointments.

Alternative 2

Improved education. The trend of reduction of the incidence of dental caries across the Western world has been much the same both in countries/areas that introduced water fluoridation and those that didn’t introduce water fluoridation. It is important also to note that areas that did have water fluoridation and have since stopped, did not then have an increase in the level of dental caries. The main reason for the reduction has been the increased education and awareness of dental hygiene, as well as access to dentists. Education includes not only how to properly brush/floss teeth, but also on the factors that damage teeth in the first place – notably sugar and acids, for example as found in soft drinks and many juices. The education needs also to be for the parents who supervise and care for their children and infants. The current education mentioned in the consultation document mentions “using a fluoride toothpaste”, the implication here being that the very fluoride in such toothpaste is a cause of dental problems. The rejection of water fluoridation should be a rejection of fluoride generally, especially from products for infants such as formula and baby food, both of which currently carry (in some cases) excess dosages of fluoride (under the current “recommended” dosage guidelines, noting that any fluoride at all should probably be considered excessive).

Alternative 3

Look to the health services of other European countries for advice on non-fluoride-based dental care.

Do you have any additional comments?

The information presented, both on the (sub-)site and in the linked documents such as the “Water consultation fluoridation document” is extremely biased in favour of fluoridation, and cites particular favourable references that are themselves biased towards fluoridation and/or considerably dated and inaccurate.

The report, “Economic Implications of the Fluoridation of Water Supplies in Hampshire and Southampton City PCT“, is cited as “[a]n independent study, commissioned by the SHA to assess the impact on dental health of adjusting the level of fluoride”. Aside from the fact that it is not a medically based nor relevantly independent (disclaimers, “Abacus International is relying on data provided by South Central SHA”; “South Central SHA limited the scope”; it is an economic model: “By nature, Health Economic modeling is ‘assumptive'”), makes no claims as to the medical/scientific basis for water fluoridation, instead taking the given values for effectiveness of reduction of dental caries. The quoted estimate of preventing childhood decay in 36,032 “teeth” (that should be carious lesions) over a 20 year period at a cost of £11,526 (32 pence “per tooth”) is  for the a specific set of model inputs including “as estimated reduction in the incidence of carious lesions in the fluoridated area of 25%”. This is a gross misrepresentation of the report, since it is only one set of outcomes for the model.

The report’s conclusion states, “The primary driver of this analysis is the assumption that fluoridation of the water supplies in parts of Southampton City PCT and Hampshire PCT can reduce the future incidence of dental caries by 25% compared with the current level of caries incidence in Southampton City PCT.” There is no medical or scientific evidence to suggest that a 25% efficacy is supported. What else does the report say? “Reducing efficacy of fluoridation to 12%, reflecting [the] worst case scenario [supplied by South Central SHA], will result in a net cost to the NHS of £782,271 and a cost per carious lesion avoided of £45.23. The total number of carious lesions avoided is 17,296.”

Even a press release for the referenced York Review contains an admission that “water fluoridation does appear to reduce the incidence of caries (tooth decay), but it is smaller reduction than previously reported”. Later their press release indicates that they found “an average 15% reduction in tooth decay”. It is likely that the actual figure is significantly less, possibly zero.

The report’s closing words (before references, etc): “For the purpose of South Central decision making, Abacus would suggest to treat the economic picture as a cost neutral, with a potential downside of a net cost of £782k over 20 years and a potential upside of £226k dental health care cost savings.”

Overall, the report is meaningless in terms of whether or not dental decay will be reduced. It can only speak of the potential economic benefit (or additional cost) in certain cases where average efficacy is assumed.

The York Review, published in 2000, which the presented information appears to rely on heavily, claims “an average 2.25 less decayed missing and filled primary/permanent teeth amongst children living in fluoridated areas compared to non-fluoridated areas” , which is completely outrageous given that the average DMFTs for 12 year olds in many non-fluoridated countries at the present time is less than 2.

That particular example, in words taken directly from the FAQ on this site: (4.1) “Reviews of the evidence show that fluoridated water can increase the percentage of children free from tooth decay by around 15 per cent. The average decrease in the number of teeth that are decayed or filled or extracted in the studies examined was found to be 2.2 teeth.” (2.1) “The average number of decayed, missing or filled teeth for five year olds in Southampton is 1.76, compared with the national figure of 1.47.” Clearly the average of 1.76 in Southampton cannot be reduced by 2.2 to a figure below zero, and as such is complete nosense.

Another reference from the York Review: (2.1) [correction: FAQ 5.1 Is fluoride safe?] “Studies carried out by York University and the Medical Research Council systematically appraised and reviewed the scientific literature and found no evidence that fluoride added to water causes harmful side effects.” Later in the FAQ appears, (5.13) “In some developing countries where people are exposed to high levels of natural fluoride in the ground water – skeletal fluorosis is a widespread problem. Bones become weaker than normal and the bones of the legs can become deformed. Ligaments can get stiff and become less mobile.” This of course makes the first “implication of fact” (that there are no harmful side effects) glaringly disingenuous.

Fluoridation proponents often claim there is no scientific data to support claims of any ill health effects from fluoride. This claim is not true. On the flipside, there is no valid scientific data to support proponent’s claims of safety, nor of achieving the supposed dental health benefits.

It is true that a large number of dentists publicly support fluoridation, but this is likely to be more out of ignorance, or, for many, out of pressure to maintain that public support despite private reservations or objections – it is well known that dentists who have in the past spoken out against fluoride have been forced out of business. Note that is quite distinct from having any sort of rational argument; it is financial and political pressure with no sound medical or scientific basis.

Given that the purported economic costs are based on an efficacy (dictated by South Central SHA) of 25% reduction in the incidence of dental caries, and that the model, as stated in the report, is highly sensitive to the assumed estimated efficacy, if the actual efficacy is significantly less, then the proposal is a huge white elephant, at best. That is neglecting any negative health impacts that might be caused.

I will note at this point, the reference in the “Easy read” version of the consultation document, beside the photo of a man wearing a “Dentist” nametag: “Many dentists think putting fluoride in the water is a good idea”. There is no mention of “Many dentists think that fluoride is a poison that will make you ill and harms the environment.” Dentists and other health professionals have, in the past, been used to advertise all sorts of products, including cigarettes, and I find it deplorable that this depiction/propaganda (in particular) is being used against those possibly less able to understand the issues (I’m making an assumption about the target audience of the easy read document).

I do note, on a positive side, that admission of the source of the fluoridation chemicals is better than some other references (which completely deny that they are waste products of, for example, fertiliser manufacture). There is a link to “Hampshire Against Fluoridation” ( on the Useful Links page of the site under “Interest Groups”, but this seems a small consolation to the massive bias elsewhere throughout the site, links and related documents.

A little about you

We would like to know a little about you to make sure that we have the views of a wide range of people.

This section witheld for pricacy reasons.

Result page

Thank you for your response to the fluoridation consultation. All responses will be logged before being analysed independently by a team from the University of Birmingham. A final decision will be made by the Board of South Central Strategic Health Authority in February 2009.

If you would like to be informed of the decision made by the Board in February 2009, please send your e-mail address to

Blackle holes? 24 April, 2008 at 7:13 am

I’ve been reading about black holes recently, you know, those things that Hawking eats for breakfast, but Blackle is something else: a rebadged Google search, painted black “to save energy”, because the white background of the usual Google search pages uses too much power.

What the?.. Sounds like the kind of pseudo-scientific slight of hand or turn of phrase that might make the writings of the Saturday-morning-doorknocking witnesses on evolution (or lack thereof) seem plausible.

An LCD panel uses less power than an equivalent CRT (well, let’s say most of the time – there may be some extreme examples where this is not the case, but not that I know about). LCD = good. LCD screens work with a backlight – a white light behind the (sub-)pixels, which produce the coloured display we see by blocking some of the white light: if you block the red and the green, you’re left with blue. As a side note, now that I think of it, it’s ironic that this ‘emissive’ colour mixing property we typically associate with screens is, in a sense, actually an absorptive colour mixing technology! Perhaps it is better to think of it as transmissive, as opposed to reflective colour mixing (eg CMYK printing). Actually, though, the LCD’s white backlight is separated into red, green, and blue subpixels before the ‘liquid crystal’ part, so each LC cell only deals with one of red, green, or blue light, and it is our eyes that do the actual mixing (this is called optical mixing), such as is with pointillism or divisionism (chromoluminarism) of the impressionists in the art world.

An LED display (think big, like an outdoor display) has red, green and blue lights (maybe white as well), so is an RGB(W) display, for which one might expect having less lights on (ie more black and dark colours) to require less power. A LCD screen (such as in most laptops and most flat-panel displays) is, in a sense, a minus-RGB, or anti-RGB device, but does blocking the light take more or less power than letting it through? That I wasn’t so sure of, so I had a quick read of the technology behind LCD displays before keying the following message to Blackle via their contact page:

On LCD technology…

“The optical effect of a twisted nematic device in the voltage-on state is far less dependent on variations in the device thickness than that in the voltage-off state. Because of this, these devices are usually operated between crossed polarizers such that they appear bright with no voltage (the eye is much more sensitive to variations in the dark state than the bright state).”

Given that most (if not all) LCD screens are probably twisted nematic devices, and producing black on such a device requires application of a voltage (, then surely displaying black instead of white uses MORE power, not less.

I’m sure you are already well aware of this, so am wondering why you don’t just drop the pretending that black screens use less power.

Do you really just not give a shit and it is about making money from the advertising?

Excuse my French (and, to the French, excuse my English; I’m aware that swearing in French is so much more expressive) – a liberty taken as this Blackle caper is apparently Aussie (based in Sydney), and it only seemed proper to show some local concern.

With a little more reading I got to the part about ‘vertical alignment’ LCD’s, which are black in the natural (no voltage applied) state. At this moment I don’t know if that is common, as compared to the opposite voltage requirement suggested earlier as being the most common. It is doubtful that I’m the first person to have such musings (maybe if I now go and do a search… just to, you know, save some energy). I’m supposing it is similarly doubtful that I will receive a particularly meaningful reply. If you ask me, using a bunch of computers (Blackle’s) to process and re-serve search results that have already been provided by a bunch of other computers (Google’s) sounds like using more power than any perceived, perhaps even imagined, display wattage saving.

Meanwhile, on the subject of black holes, I’m currently confused by the notion that a black hole is something that exhibits extremely high entropy. Evidently I wasn’t paying enough attention at some point… If an ice cube has lower entropy than the ice cube when it is melted (water), how can something even more dense, more localised (the probability of a particle being found far off in the universe), less able to change its arrangement with respect to the particles around it (er… this is a pretty vague assumption, given that things are supposed to be ‘weird’ in a black hole!), have higher entropy? Sneaking a peek just now on Wikipedia, I read,

Jacob Bekenstein and Stephen Hawking have shown that black holes have the maximum possible entropy of any object of equal size. This makes them likely end points of all entropy-increasing processes, if they are totally effective matter and energy traps. Hawking has, however, recently changed his stance on this aspect.

Hmm… I don’t know/understand Hawking’s original stance, nor his new one, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one that isn’t so sure! :o)

-subpixel (subtractive-RGB!)

Violence in movies 3 March, 2008 at 2:05 am

This isn’t about the usual, Hollywood (et al) violence in film, but about violence found even in an ‘academic’ setting, in this case, the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University. And no, this is also not about horrendous events such as “the deadliest shooting rampage in US history” (US university shooting kills 33 – Virginia Tech, April 2007), but rather about content produced and published by students and academic staff: ‘Interesting High-speed (super slow motion) Video Clips‘.

Here is what I wrote to ‘Dr Dave’ about his collection:

Date: Mon, 03 Mar 2008 01:03:39 +1100
To: Dr David Alciatore – Mech. Eng. Associate Professor
CC: Dr Allan Kirkpatrick – Mech. Eng. Head,
Dr Sandra Woods – Eng. Dean,
Aaron Benally – WEMP Coordinator
Subject: Inappropriate violence in published high-speed video clips

Dr Alciatore,

I have just viewed your collection of high-speed videos (found at after reading about a new camera by Casio (EX-F1) with high-speed video capability.

It is unfortunate that some of the videos suffer from poor lighting, are out of focus, etc, but I’m mostly disappointed by the poor subject material in a lot of them. Okay, show bouncing bowling pins, cue balls, a leg stomping on the ground, a water balloon bursting… Why things like people being shot at? A woman being slapped on the face? An egg in an animal trap? A firecracker in a marshmallow? Clean up your act, and show some editorial control. It is unfortunate that one of the better videos in the whole collection was the bb-pellet striking someone’s chest. Was this filmed on university campus – someone being shot? (Even if it is ‘only’ with a bb gun). Overall, the predominance of violence is somewhat questionable. Inappropriate and irresponsible.

I hope you review what has been posted and encourage a different direction for students’ (and possibly your own) studies in the future. This collection of videos reflects poorly on yourself and the university. I might also say on US culture as a whole, but that is somewhat beyond your control, and if bb guns and other weapons are legal in your jurisdiction, it is perhaps unfair to expect students to not involve them in their experiments.

You should note that this message has been copied to other parties I think should take note of my concern: the head of Mechanical Engineering, The Engineering College Dean, and the Women and Minorities in Engineering Coordinator – too many of the clips are perfect examples of boys being boys, and (I expect) dissuade women taking an interest in the field. I studied electrical engineering myself at university around 10 years ago, and of course noticed the distinct lack of numbers of women in the course. I did also notice, though, that they were intelligent, capable, hard-working and dedicated students. I think the field could do with more women, hopefully resulting in developments more socially responsible than blowing things up, beatings and killing people.

[name witheld]
Sydney, Australia

I’m quite interested in checking out the camera I mentioned, the Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1. It isn’t due for release until this month, so it might be a while before it appears in Australia. The main attraction: 60fps continuous shooting (at HD video resolution), and up to 1200fps second video!.. at a dodgy resolution, but even so – wow! 512 × 384 (300 fps), 432 × 192 (600 fps), 336 × 96 (1200 fps). Check out some of the sample high-speed video clips.


Free Rice 6 January, 2008 at 8:21 am

FreeRice is a sister site of the world poverty site,

FreeRice has two goals:

  1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
  2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

How does FreeRice do this? The interactive part of the site is a vocabulary tester / game. Every time you get the word right, 20 grains of rice (not much, but over many words by many people, quite a bit!) is donated to the UN World Food Program. The difficulty of the words depends on what ‘level’ you are at – which goes down when you get a word wrong, and goes up when you get three right in a row. I tell you, it can be bloody frustrating! The idea is that you will be kept somewhere at the edge of your vocabulary – once you’ve seen the same words come up a bunch of times, you of course learn them (well, one would hope eventually!) and move on. You stumble back pretty quickly sometimes, and forward progress is slow, but it is also addictive!

I think the highest level I reached was 45. I’m not sure, exactly, as it was a while ago now (before New Year’s, certainly, maybe before Christmas) , but it didn’t often get past 43. See how you go, and help to feed the hungry.