June 17, 2020
California federal case features familiar debate over whether fluoridation should continue, including in Oregon.
In a broadcast that rewound the clock to pre-coronavirus times, a live-streamed federal trial in San Francisco revisited the fluoridation debate that gripped the city of Portland in 2013.
Since June 8, Food and Water Watch, the Fluoride Action Network and other groups have engaged in the unprecedented and potentially historic federal trial online, having sued to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to block the addition of fluoride to drinking water to fight cavities.
Seven years ago in Portland, lawn signs sprouted and arguments broke out as two camps of people debated — up close and with no masks necessary — whether the benefit of putting fluoridation chemicals in drinking water outweighed the risk of harm.
In the end, Portlanders rejected the position of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Dental Association, voting fluoridation down by a large margin.
Now Portlanders will see if a federal judge, Edward M. Chen, endorses that decision. Both sides made their closing arguments June 17, broadcast through the court’s webpage.
The trial’s outcome could affect the many communities in Oregon that do fluoridate. It could have an impact on other environmental issues as well. Already, the plaintiffs have enjoyed unprecedented success in forcing consideration of recently published studies under a federal safety law. If they win, it could reshape environmental protection for years to come, according to the publication Bloomberg Law.
The groups suing EPA have called as witnesses the scientists who conducted a recent series of long-term studies of human exposure in Canada and Mexico, some approved and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The studies connected even the low levels found in fluoridated water to subtle impairment in developing brains, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and an average loss of several points of IQ.
But supporters of fluoridation, including some scientists, portray the studies as flawed, inconclusive and potentially biased — an argument that’s also been made by the EPA’s lawyers in court in arguing any conclusions would be premature.
The EPA points to still other studies, including a forthcoming study that has not yet been published, that do not find harm from fluoridation.
It’s unclear when the judge will issue his ruling, and whether it will be appealed.