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As bans spread, fluoride in drinking water divides communities across the US

Melba Newsome, KFF Health News on

Published in News & Features

The Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District in Williamson County, Texas, had been adding fluoride to its water system since 2007 but ended the practice in December.

In 2016, Collier County, Florida, commissioners opted not to remove fluoride from the water system. But they unanimously reversed that decision following a 2023 Health Freedom Bill of Rights county ordinance in response to covid-19 “to safeguard the healthcare rights and freedoms of Collier County residents.”

The State College Borough Water Authority in Pennsylvania stopped adding fluoride to the water of its 75,000 customers in March 2023. Officials used claims often cited by fluoride opponents, such as potential environmental contamination, concerns about medical freedom, and possible adverse health effects, like the potential for the appearance of faint white lines on the teeth and lowered IQ for babies.

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2019, conducted in six Canadian cities, associated fluoride exposure during pregnancy with lower IQ scores in children. But the study was based on self-reporting and has been criticized for its perceived methodological shortcomings.

In 2016, several consumer advocacy groups, including the Fluoride Action Network, Food & Water Watch, and Moms Against Fluoridation, petitioned the EPA to end water fluoridation under the Toxic Substances Control Act, alleging that significant research showed fluoride was neurotoxic at the doses now used. The same group filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA the following year, after the agency denied their citizen petition.


During a 10-day bench trial in San Francisco that concluded in mid-February, the two sides debated the risks and areas of uncertainty. If Senior U.S. District Judge Edward Chen determines water fluoridation presents an “unreasonable risk” to human health, the EPA will be forced to create a rule regulating or banning water fluoridation in the U.S. A decision is expected soon.

For the time being, decisions about whether to fluoridate community water systems are still made primarily at the local level, which Barrett hopes will change.

“Of all things, they want our teeth healthy when basic needs of housing and food are lacking.”

©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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