By painting a picture of our experiences in the past ten years, ESI hope to present this issue in a way that empowers the readers to learn from Ireland’s mistakes and expose where policy-makers have gone wrong.

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The Optimal Dose (page 82)

Ireland is one of the only developed countries in the world that still adds fluoride, a poison, to its public water supplies. Over 70% of people in Ireland drink fluoride through the water supply. Many of Ireland's fellow European states stopped fluoridation of public water supplies in the 1970s, in response to concerns about health impacts, while Spain still supplies fluoride to 3% of its population, the United Kingdom fluoridates water supplied to 10% of it's population.

Ireland was following best-known medical advice when it began, in 1963, to add fluoride to Irish drinking water, to help protect people from tooth decay. Times have moved on, and fluoride is now known to be dangerous and is believed by many in Ireland to be a danger to their health.

Irish non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been campaigning against fluoridation for many years. Local authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland have refused to fluoridate public water supplies. When their peers in Dublin City Council and Sligo and Donegal County Councils decided to stop adding fluoride to the water, they were overruled by the Department of Health and Children.

Because the fluoride added to Ireland's water supplies is not biodegradable, it can concentrate in the body over long periods of exposure. Ireland now shows signs of this exposure with higher than average levels of dental fluorosis, a discolouring of the teeth that results from extended exposure to fluoride. Dental fluorosis defaces teeth, but skeletal fluorosis, which has also been linked to fluoridated water supplies in some studies, makes bones brittle and can have life changing rather than cosmetic effects.

Studies have linked fluoride poisoning and fluoridated water to irritable bowel syndrome, long term bone damage, and various thyroid and brain disorders.

The fluoride concentration standard in Ireland is 1 part per million, the maximum level acceptable under EU water quality standards. However, fluoridated water is used in the preparation of foods and beverages and the precise, per capita daily intake in Ireland remains unknown. The water is treated to reach this maximum "safe dose" but the additional effects of other fluoride sources, including toothpaste and naturally occurring fluoride, are ignored.

According to advice from the Department of Health and Children, this level of concentration is the 'optimal' dose for the Irish people. However, the health benefits of fluoride are by no means agreed, even within the international medical community.

On the one hand, the Department of Health and the Dental Health Foundation maintain that fluoridation is safe and good and that studies saying it is unsafe are not accurate and are poorly prepared. On the other hand, scientists like, Dr Albert Schatz, who invented streptomycin, says "There is no well-designed research which provides convincing evidence that fluoridation is safe and reduces the incidence of dental caries [soft spots on the teeth where cavities begin]. That is why it has been banned in many countries".

The Irish Government's response to anti-fluoridation protest marches has been predictable. In the year 2000 the Minister for Health and Children established a select committee to study the question, including civil servants, doctors and dentists.

Originally due to report in September 2001, the work of the committee and its report remain unknown as this book goes to press.

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