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Anti-fluoridation group says arsenic hitches ride on water chemicals

Supporters decry it as scare tactic


Fluoridation opponents, citing a lab analysis of Philomath’s fluoridated water, argued Thursday that the fluoridation chemicals planned for Portland’s water supply could contain a deadly amount of arsenic.

Clean Water Portland, the main campaign committee fighting the water fluoridation measure on Portland’s May 21 special election ballot, commissioned the study because Philomath uses fluorosilicic acid, the same chemical compound Portland Water Bureau intends to use if voters approve fluoridation. It’s also used by most larger urban areas across the country that fluoridate their water supply.

Philomath’s water was tested by ALS Environmental Lab in Kelso.

William Hirzy, a chemist at American University in Washington, D.C., said the tested water, if matched by Portland’s, would raise arsenic levels more than 12 percent above the highest recorded levels in 2012 — and that would be enough to cause five extra cases of lung or bladder cancer each year in Portland.

“Arsenic is a powerful toxin that has substantial health risks even at low levels,” Hirzy said. “It should not be added to Portland’s drinking water.”

David Shaff, administrator of the Portland Water Bureau, said he couldn’t comment fully until seeing the data.

“We’ll look at it and I’ll talk to the people who actually know something,” Shaff said, “and see if there is any level of concern we would have.”

Some of the information put forth by fluoride opponents in the past, Shaff added, has not been very impressive.

The pro-fluoridation campaign quickly issued its own press release to rebut the claims of Clean Water Portland.

"This is the latest ridiculous attempt to use false information to scare people into voting against a safe, effective and affordable solution to our dental crisis," said Evyn Mitchell, campaign manager for Healthy Kids, Healthy Portland, in a prepared statement.

She cited a reference to Philomath's 2012 annual water report to its citizens, which found no detectable levels of arsenic in the water it tested.

Mitchell also cited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which has found that most fluoridated water samples do not have detectable levels of arsenic. Those that do contain arsenic, CDC found, are well below the allowable amount set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hirzy is a former leader of the EPA’s scientists union, which has raised concerns about the use of fluoride. He also is the lead author of a study on fluorosilicic acid published in February by Environmental Science & Policy.