THE EPA'S ROLE IN THE POLLUTION STORY BEHIND FLUORIDATION.
with Robert Carton, PhD
Former president of the EPA union, Dr. Robert Carton, discusses the scientific fraud that occurred at the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s and 1990s that keeps the practice of public water fluoridation in place today.
Ep4 with Robert Carton, PhD
The EPA's Role in the Pollution Story Behind Fluoridation (Part I)
When the scientists at EPA Headquarters formed a union in the early 1980s, one of the first complaints they received was from an employee who was being pressured to conceal the adverse health effects of artificial water fluoridation. In this interview, author Melissa Gallico interviews Dr. Robert Carton, one of the first presidents of the union, who explains how the union fought to expose the scientific fraud at EPA that allows the reckless practice of public water fluoridation to continue to this day.
Dr. Robert Carton was a chemist and risk assessment manager at the Environmental Protection Agency from the 1970s to the 1990s prior to taking over as the Chief of Environmental Compliance at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick in Maryland. He has a PhD in environmental science from Rutgers University.
Melissa Gallico is a former FBI analyst and military intelligence officer. She is also author of The Hidden Cause of Acne, illustrator of F Is for Fluoride, and host of the #Fpollution podcast, dedicated to exposing the pollution story behind fluoridation. She has a degree in science and technology in international affairs (STIA) from Georgetown University and a master's in international security studies from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland where she spent a year as a Fulbright scholar to the United Kingdom.
Discussed in this episode:
READ THE TRANSCRIPT.
This podcast is produced by Gallico Studios, a multimedia effort supported by a community of activists who share the goal of ending artificial water fluoridation. To join the studio or learn more, visit our website at .
Melissa Gallico: Welcome to #Fpollution podcast. I'm your host, Melissa Gallico, author of The Hidden Cause of Acne: How Toxic Water is Affecting Your Health and What You Can Do About It and F Is for Fluoride: A Feasible Fairytale for Freethinkers 15 and Up.
Previously, we discussed the pollution scandal at the heart of public water fluoridation. Today we'll hear from the former president of the EPA union of professional employees, Dr. Robert Carton, about the union’s involvement in exposing the fraudulent science—and I don’t use that term lightly—that keeps the practice of artificial water fluoridation in place despite the vehement opposition of EPA scientists.
Dr. Robert Carton worked as a chemist and risk assessment manager at the EPA from the 1970s to the 1990s prior to taking over as the Chief of Environmental Compliance at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick in Maryland. He has a PhD in environmental science from Rutgers University.
Dr. Carton, welcome to the show.
Dr. Carton: Good morning, Melissa. Thanks for pursuing this. I really appreciate it.
Melissa Gallico: Before we talk about artificial water fluoridation, can you please give our listeners a brief background on the union that you led at the EPA? Who were the members? When was it formed? And why?
Dr. Carton: Well, it was formed in 1983. It represented all of the professionals at EPA headquarters, which amounted to about 1,200 people at the time which included scientists, lawyers, mathematicians, anybody who was officially considered professional by the government. It's a rather narrow definition and some people may be upset to consider, for them to consider that they are not a professional. But be that as it may, we had an election and had an overwhelming majority of people, it was over 90%, voted to have the union. That's not to say that everybody who is eligible to vote voted but it was an official, run by the labor department, election. And we won hands down. So we had a pretty good mandate. And the reason we felt the need for a union was because the management there was a top-down management. You had absolutely no say in what went on. You couldn't impact how the job was done, what job should be done, it was really frustrating. So here you have very educated people who are just being basically bullied to do their job. We thought we needed to have a counterbalance to the weight that they gave to every decision. So that's why we got started.
Melissa Gallico: And the union had a big success early on when EPA leadership, after meeting with representatives from the asbestos industry, tried to abdicate the agency's responsibility to regulate asbestos. What was your first indication that the Integrity of the science on fluoridation might have been corrupted in a similar way to what was uncovered with the asbestos issue?
Dr. Carton: In 1985, I was walking down the hallway in the East Tower. We were housed then at Waterside Hall, they've since changed. The fellow walking down the hall, his name was Paul Price. He was in the drinking water office. And he stopped to talk to me because he was upset by the fact that he was told being told basically to lie about the new drinking water standard. He was writing the standard, he was in charge of all the documents. And he was called up to the head of the Office of Water which is above the drinking water office. There's quite a number of levels at EPA. A man by the name of Jack Ravan, a political appointee from down south. And he told Paul that the level that they were selecting was too low and that it should be twice as high As they were expecting to set the level. They wanted to set it at 2, which I don't agree with, but it's better than four. But he was told to set it at 4.
Now, in order to understand this you have to understand there are two separate primary standards. One is strictly based on health effects. The other one is based on economics and feasibility. And that one, the second one, is the only one that is actually enforceable. The first one is not enforceable so theoretically, you should be setting the—it was called at the time the recommended maximum contaminant level; I think it's now the maximum contaminant level goal—but you should set it strictly based on health effects and nothing else. And since it's not enforceable, it doesn't have a really big impact. But of course, that's only theoretical that it doesn't have an impact. Because if the public ever heard about what the real health effect level would be, fluoridation would be ended overnight. So he was basically told to lie and I presume that in order to set the level at 4 and to write documents on 4, he had to throw out all the information that supported the lower level and put in data that only supported the higher level.
Melissa Gallico: I love the satirical memo Price posted about this on the EPA bulletin boards, this was back before email, where he accused the EPA of bowing to political pressure to increase the safety standard for fluoride. And in this memo which I’ll link to in the show notes he says, “the old standard was based on consumers' average shoe size and the phase of the moon” whereas the new standard is based on “a cost-effectiveness study that shows that it is cheaper for people to keep their mouths shut than to remove the fluoride.” Was there any response or kickback from that memo?
Dr. Carton: Uh, no, Since it was only circulated internally and nobody really made a big deal out of it. It was a joke and people just brushed it off. I don't think they understood what he was talking about because when you're involved in whatever your job is you don't have time to delve into all the nuances of what was going on with his particular area.
Melissa Gallico: I actually looked him up on LinkedIn and I saw that he left the EPA soon after all this happened in the 1980s but he's actually back there now and I was wondering if you think there would be any benefit in having his testimony recorded in a legal setting or a congressional hearing to document the way the science on fluoridation has been corrupted at the EPA.
Dr. Carton: Oh, absolutely. If he is willing to admit what actually happened, I am sure swearing under oath to what actually happened, which is what he would have to do, it would come out. I've been told people have been trying to get him to give a deposition and they were told that he was not going to be allowed by the agency (since he was working for them) to give the deposition. So I don't know how that's going to happen. You know there is a legal case going on in Washington right now which has been dragging along for a while where EPA is being sued by an environmental group in California to act on all the information showing that fluoride is neurotoxic. I've been asked to give a deposition in that and I've been waiting to do it. I was down in Washington in January planning on it and they had the shutdown of the government and the whole thing got postponed. So I don't know when that is going to happen.
Melissa Gallico: We should note that Price was right to be concerned about dental fluorosis. National survey show the rates of dental fluorosis have steadily increased since that time to the point where a study just came out earlier this year in JDR Clinical and Translational Research that says over 30% of children have dental fluorosis severe enough to require treatment. And we'll talk about dental fluorosis more in an upcoming episode of the show with one of the authors of that study who we also heard from in the first episode, Dr. Hardy Limeback.
But before we go any further, I did want to ask you, do you recall what your preconceptions were of fluoridation before it came to your attention through your work with the EPA union? Did you drink fluoridated water at home or ever have any reason to question the practice before then?
Dr. Carton: I had absolutely no reason to question it. It totally floored me that this was a possible problem. So I was like everybody else, and people still today because they're only getting one side of the story mostly, unless you're in a city where there is some controversy and then the information comes out. But no, I didn't suspect anything until I talked to Paul Price and that was the beginning of the end. Or the beginning of the story, anyhow, on the union's efforts on fluoride. They had a hearing after they published the standard. And I went to the hearing and there were a number of people there, some professionals and some non-professionals. There were three ladies, one from Texas, one from Massachusetts, and one from California I think it was, no Florida, I'm sorry. I need to mention their names because they are absolutely wonderful people: Carol Patton, Martha Bevis, and Susan Perry. And I sat down with them and they explained to me what they knew about the subject and it was just unbelievably shocking how this has been going on under the radar without anybody really knowing about it. So that helped reinforce my efforts. And then I went to the union to get them to help see if we could overturn this.
Melissa Gallico: So you're at the hearing where the EPA was increasing the safety standard for fluoride, and were these women EPA employees also?
Dr. Carton: No, one lady, she ran the Safe Water Foundation of Texas. And I think the other two people were affiliated with the foundation. Carol Patton was a nurse and just got involved in it on her own, the same way with Susan Perry, and they all got to know each other and were exchanging information and had a wealth of information and contacts in the professional field with people like Albert Burgstahler, John Yiamouyiannis, Dr. John Lee... Dr. John Lee is famous for his work on female hormones. So I found out that there is really serious reputable people who were against putting fluoride in the water.
Melissa Gallico: I read that you attended a presentation by Dr. John Yiamouyiannis about the health risks of fluoridation during those early years of the EPA Union. Dr. Yiamouyiannis was an editor at the Chemical Abstracts Service, a division of the American Chemical Society. He had a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Rhode Island and was a leading voice opposed to fluoridation in the 1970s, really up until his death in the year 2000. What was it about his presentation that made it so impactful?
Dr. Carton: (laughing) Well, he was willing to take some risks. He accused some famous scientist who was involved in doing mutagenicity studies looking at possible cancer-causing agents and he found out the guy had lied about some of the data in his study. So he brought that up at the presentation and there was a former student of this professor sitting in the audience and he jumped up and he got all irritated (laughing) and Dr. Yiamouyiannis said, “look, tell him what I said, tell him he's a liar, and take me to court.” And that was the end of that because the evidence that he showed demonstrated that indeed the guy had lied about his data.
Melissa Gallico: There's this tautological narrative that anyone who opposes fluoridation is by definition a quack, and Dr. Yiamouyiannis has been widely denigrated because of his anti-fluoridation activities. In fact, if you do a Google search for him the first result is a website called quackwatch which claims public health officials regarded Dr. Yiamouyiannis as a terrorist. Now, as someone who spent my career working to prevent actual acts of terrorism that descriptor really struck me, not just as wildly inappropriate but as dangerous to be vilifying scientists who descent with mainstream opinion in that way. That's not how scientific progress happens. It seems like something that would be done in a very dark, scientifically repressive society. Were there public health officials within your organization or others that you know of who consider Dr. Yiamouyiannis to be that kind of threat because of his scientific opposition to fluoridation?
Dr. Carton: Oh, sure. The National Institute for Dental Research absolutely hated him. There was one fellow who was in charge of the information office, John Small, I think he's passed away since those times, but he had nothing good to say about Dr. Yiamouyiannis. The fact that he got fired from the Chemical Abstracts Service shows the reach of the powerful interests behind this whole thing.
Melissa Gallico: So, was Dr. Yiamouyiannis fired from Chemical Abstracts Service because of his activities to expose the fraudulent science behind fluoridation?
Dr. Carton: I think so, yeah. Yep. Fired or forced out, I don't know which one it was. I don't want to misrepresent it. But he was forced out at the very least because of his opposition to fluoridation.
Melissa Gallico: When you first became aware of the problems with the scientific integrity of EPA safety standard for fluoride, what were the first actions you took as president of the EPA Union?
Dr. Carton: Well, I started writing letters, either as president or one of the officers because I changed positions, since you were only president for a year, you could then take up another position. So I started writing letters for the union, which they supported 100 percent, asking the administrator to recognize what was going on and do something about it. We asked for him to have a seminar with all the professionals at EPA there where the scientists or contractors who had done the work to support the standard could come in and present what their results were and how they got there and be questioned by the professionals at EPA. So basically getting some internal peer review of what actually went on. And we got absolutely nowhere. Nothing that we wrote, any phone calls, nothing moved them at all. Eventually, we got Bill Whittington interested in this and we had a meeting with him and I wrote a letter detailing the steps that needed to be taken to come up with an honest standard, but we never heard back. That was it. Just totally cut off.
Melissa Gallico: You also made a visit to Ralph Nader around that time. Why did you reach out to him about this issue and what was that meeting like? Can you describe it for us?
Dr. Carton: Well, of course, Ralph Nader has a lot of clout in environmental circles and is greatly appreciated by citizens, so we thought maybe we could get him to take this up. He had been against it for years and I think had really gotten nowhere with it, so he wasn't too anxious to take on anything really big. But he did agree to put one of his assistants to work on... He said give me a subject that people will understand that maybe we can go to bat on. So I talked to his assistant about the fraudulent numbers used for how much water people drink. It's amazing, they were using two liters a day as the standard to say how much will be toxic to you. They said everyone drank two liters a day which was absolute nonsense. Actually, EPA had published results that there was a segment of the population that actually drinks five liters a day. So they put out a press release and a report on that which went nowhere but I appreciated the fact that he was trying to help us out. And of course, he was on the right side of the issue.
Melissa Gallico: So just to recap the story so far, in 1985, the union becomes aware that the EPA’s policy on fluoride is not based on sound science and established protocol. You try to bring up the issue internally with EPA leadership but no one at the Office of Water takes action to correct the safety standard. Soon after that, the union became involved in a lawsuit with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group, against the EPA over the haphazard new safety standard for fluoride. Tell us about that lawsuit.
Dr. Carton: Oh, that was really interesting. It was quite a step for us to take. But we had a vote in the union, the executive board voted 8-0 to file this amicus brief. And we got connected to this very big law firm in New York City, Lord Day & Lord, to do the work for us. We had to pay for some incidental expenses but they basically did the whole report pro bono. I don't know how much that must have cost but it must have been quite a pretty penny. So we prepared this amicus brief which showed that EPA had not done their job in setting the standard properly scientifically, like coming up with an acceptable daily dose. They never calculated anything. It was just a shoddy, shoddy job. So we submitted it to the court and unfortunately the district court in DC... it was rejected without comment, no reasons given, which they can do. They don't have to accept an amicus brief, a Friend of the Court brief. Two judges voted against us, one voted for us. It was Buckley, Bork, and Ginsburg, and Ruth Ginsburg voted in favor of allowing it into the court. And I guess the reason they didn't allow it is because we represented the professionals who the agency had to rely on to justify the standard so it was a conflict of interest really because if they had gone into court who would the agency call to support their position, their technical position? I don't know, I guess they would have to go outside the EPA and get some people who they paid off to do it but they wouldn't be able to get it from inside the agency because the inside agency experts didn't agree with them.
Melissa Gallico: I saw a line from the legal documentation which I will link to in the show notes, but the US District Court said that it would be like to EPA was suing itself. And I also wanted to point out that the maximum contaminant level of 4.0 fluoride in drinking water remains in effect to this day despite the National Research Souncil's report in 2006, Fluoride in Drinking Water, which concluded the safety standard is unsafe and needs to be lowered which EPA has yet to do. So what is the proper procedure for setting the safety standard for fluoride and how does that differ from the way the current standard was set?
Dr. Carton: Well, they didn't take all the health effects into consideration. They said the standards for accepting whether something was harmful or not was based on absolute knowledge and the law says that if you even, I can't remember the exact language now, but if you anticipate that there might be a health effect and there is evidence of that then you have to take that into consideration. Well, they just dismissed all that.
Some of the actual data that was out there on the major health effects that they did look at, they didn't even handle those properly. Dental fluorosis gets to a very severe point where you actually get pitting and corrosion of the teeth. That's not to say the earlier stages are not harmful, but it gets really, really obvious, the severe dental fluorosis. And they called that only a cosmetic effect. They used the word cosmetic effect so they wouldn't have to set the standard based on that. And if they had, they actually had severe fluorosis in some cases as low as less than 1 mg per liter which is of course 4 times less than the standard they finally set. So the standard that they set out is definitely going to cause dental fluorosis in the population, as you already mentioned. I guess the latest figures are that 30 percent of children have some form of dental fluorosis which is some damage to their enamel of the teeth.
Melissa Gallico: And that statistic was actually referring to moderate and severe dental fluorosis. The rate for just general dental fluorosis was over 60 percent of children had some form of dental fluorosis. So the rates have really skyrocketed since the 1980s.
Dr. Carton: The information that EPA put out in the preamble to the proposed standard had that information in there, that as low as 0.7 or 0.8 milligrams per liter would cause what they called objectionable dental fluorosis. That should have triggered the regulation but it didn't. The Office of Drinking Water had sent a memo up to the administrator giving him the options that he could select to set the standard. And one of his memos that he sent to the administrator, he said, ‘it's pretty hard to not conclude that objectionable dental fluorosis is a health effect.’ So he's basically tell him, ‘look, it's a health effect but you have the option of not calling it a health effect’ which is eventually what happened. They called it a cosmetic effect which is just nonsense, absolute nonsense.
So they fell back on crippling skeletal fluorosis as the basis for the standard and even that was wrong because there's the same problem involved as the dental fluorosis. At lower levels, you don't necessarily get crippling but you get arthritis, pain in the joints, and calcification of ligaments and tendons. It occurs at much lower levels than the level that they finally picked. And the level they picked wasn't even... they couldn't even justify the number that they picked. They claimed 20 mg a day for 20 years would cause crippling skeletal fluorosis. Well, they didn't even have any basis for saying that, they just said it. One of the silly things about it is, of course, you don't just live for 20 years. You may live a comfortable life of maybe 70, 75 years and the stuff accumulates in your bones and your ligaments and your tendons, so it's an ongoing thing. And they shouldn't have picked it. They just picked the 20 years because they didn't want the number to get too big.
Melissa Gallico: So who were the scientists who supposedly actually calculated the safety standard for fluoride to be 4 parts per million?
Dr. Carton: Well, they had a contractor who prepared the support document and you'd have to look up who those people were. And Paul Price, of course, was responsible for overseeing all that so…
Melissa Gallico: So the actual scientific work was contracted out? Is that normal at EPA?
Dr. Carton: Oh, they do a lot of contracting out, yes. That's not what we would like. There are a lot of competent people in the agency, but I guess they don't want to... It's easier to control a contractor and what they say, because you tell them basically what you want and then they will serve it up. So that's the easiest way to do it. If you have an employee who is going to object to it, you are going to maybe have some real internal problems.
Melissa Gallico: So if I wanted to figure out who was contracted to do that work on EPA’s regulated safety standard on fluoride in drinking water, do you have any recommendations for how I could go about finding that information?
Dr. Carton: After we get off this interview I could give that to you, yes.
Melissa Gallico: Oh, that would be great.
Dr. Carton: I don't want it part of the interview because I just talked to one of the fellows who was involved in that and they don't want to get involved in this at all.
Melissa Gallico: I'm sure they don't.
Dr. Carton: It's too hazardous for their careers because they're not going to be able to get... they might lose contracts. As a matter of fact, this fellow did lose a contract as a result of his involvement in this.
You know, I had a contractor up in Frederick, Maryland when I worked at Fort Detrick who objected to—in solid pieces of paper, he put it in writing—he objected to what they were trying to do which was to fluoridate the drinking water at Fort Detrick. And he thought it didn't make any sense because the amount of fluoride that people were already getting in their diet and all different sources actually exceeded for children the amount that was causing dental fluorosis. So dental fluorosis would occur without even fluoride in the water. I actually ran that up the flagpole there at Fort Detrick and managed after lots and lots of controversy not to have fluoride in the water until I left. When I left, and I was there for 10 years, when I left they finally started the wheels turning to put fluoride in the water.
Melissa Gallico: So, getting back to your time at the EPA, did you ever get a sense of who or what forces were pressuring the EPA to raise the safety level for fluoride?
Dr. Carton: Oh... This is the thing that needs to be investigated. We need an investigation to find out who did this and why they did this, and probably get some indictments. Because what you're talking about is threatening the health of the entire nation, so this is no small matter. There ought to be an investigation. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with this. The people who actually concocted this, the cover-up, they need to be brought out into the open and prosecuted. So just getting... I really would love to see the end of fluoridation and that in itself would be a great victory, but more than that they need to get at the people who are actually being controlled by these outside forces. They need to be brought out into the open and indicted, really.
Melissa Gallico: We’ll cover this next topic in more detail in our next episode with Dr. Bill Hirzy but I wanted to ask you about William Marcus, the EPA toxicologist who was fired in 1994 over a memo he wrote expressing concerns about the carcinogenicity of fluoride. Can you tell us about the string of events that led to Marcus's dismissal from the EPA?
Dr. Carton: Well, I was there when he was fired. As a matter of fact, I was there and tried to defend him. I actually went to court and testified at his trial, his whistleblower trial. And he did win but let's back up a little bit.
This memo basically said that the government... The report that was written on the carcinogenicity of fluoride, it did not accurately reflect the data, the actual laboratory data. He looked at the raw data and found that they had come to the wrong conclusions and it was very, very suspicious. Basically, they were altering the results of the study. And he concluded that it actually causes bone cancer and that the data would show that if they could get another evaluation of the information. He showed me the memo that he had written and I asked him, do you mind if I leak this to the Press? So I leaked it to the Washington Post and he got fired which... his wife is not happy with me... Well, he said I could do it, so he stuck with it, he didn't retract that. But unfortunately, he got fired. And two and a half years later, after legal battles, he finally won his job back. And he got one of the largest settlements ever in a whistleblower case. And he got all his back pay, all of his sick leave, annual leave, and I think $50,000 in damages. The judge had basically agreed with him in the first case that he filed, they agreed that this was all political, there was nothing wrong with what he said. So then the EPA took it up to the final level of adjudication which was the Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, and he agreed with the court, the administrative court, that there was nothing wrong with what Marcus had done. So, he was just being punished for not agreeing with the powers-that-be. I was totally surprised it got up to that level and he was actually vindicated.
Melissa Gallico: I think it's sad that I always feel the need to ask this question, but did you, either personally or professionally, ever experienced any retaliation or other forms of harassment because of your opposition to fluoridation?
Dr. Carton: No I didn’t. It’s surprising, but I didn’t. I didn’t get any punishment at all from anybody, including my ten years with the Army at Fort Detrick where I opposed putting fluoride in the water. So, I don’t know why that is. Maybe because I wasn’t... someone once told me, there is a report, and this is just pure hearsay, but the National Academy of Sciences had a meeting and during a break, there were a couple of very high-level figures, and I was never able to get their names, standing in a corner and one of my friends overheard a conversation. They said, ‘What are we going to do with Carton?’ They said, ‘don't worry about it him. He's small potatoes’. So being small potatoes, I think, got me out of the firing line.
Melissa Gallico: Well, you might have been small potatoes but you certainly didn't give up on getting the EPA to correct their safety standard for fluoride. So when the lawsuit failed and you weren't getting traction going through other internal channels, you eventually gave a presentation to the Drinking Water Committee of EPA’s Science Advisory Board about fluoridation. And I noticed the language used in this brief was markedly stronger than previous documentation. You said some of the information on fluoride was falsified, that the government made fraudulent statements, and that the credentials of EPA scientists were used to give the appearance of scientific credibility when in fact EPA professionals were never asked to give an independent analysis of the literature on fluoride. You then pointed out several instances of ethical misconduct by EPA management. How did the Science Advisory Board respond to those claims?
Dr. Carton: Basically, the only comment I got after the presentation was ‘well, how could possibly... why would they... what were the motivations of the people doing that?’ And they never touched any of the substantive points that I made in the presentation. And I got up and left. That was it. And I never heard anything later. They didn't contact me, they didn't ask me for more documentation, which they should have. I mean, they shouldn't have let me get out of that seat without having a serious conversation. We didn't have a serious conversation which just astounded me. Absolutely astounded me.
Melissa Gallico: Yes, that's interesting that they just couldn't get past that idea, ‘why would people do that?’ I mean, it's a really good question. Why would anyone want to suppress negative information about fluoride’s adverse health effects? And, I think, if you don't understand the pollution history behind fluoridation, it really doesn't make sense. So, I wish they had asked that question seriously, you said it wasn't a serious conversation, if they had asked that question and really truly looked for an answer there are plenty of reasons why special interest groups are trying to suppress the negative side effects of fluoride.
People within the EPA who are writing these official policies about fluoridation, did they believe that they followed proper scientific procedure and that fluoride is safe at current levels in our drinking water supply? I'm just trying to figure out how this pressure was applied internally and where it was coming from.
Dr. Carton: Well that's... Somebody needs to ask them. They need to ask them why and grill them as to where this pressure is coming from considering the data that doesn't support it. I mean, why are you doing this?
Melissa Gallico: It's pretty clear that one source of pressure for that is the Public Health Service, because the CDC is really the epicenter for fluoridation. Their Oral Health Division is the one recommending the addition of fluoride to public water supplies in the United States. Can you think of any instances at EPA where the Public Health Service or the CDC was the one applying pressure or influencing EPA’s safety standard on fluoride?
Dr. Carton: Well, that's where the Surgeon General comes in of the Public Health Service. He had a group that was put together that found out that... they made certain conclusions in their draft report which were then taken out before the final report was published and they were never given access to the final report. They were never asked to comment on the final report or allowed to change back to what they really intended when they put their initial report out. This is well documented in a couple of places. Joel Griffiths, who wrote for the Medical Tribune, documented how this committee worked because they got a hold of... unfortunately for the Surgeon General the proceedings of the meeting were taken down verbatim by a court stenographer. So they had every single word that everybody said and they probably stopped doing that when this thing came out because they don't want people knowing what really goes on. But this one, Martha Bevis from Texas with her Congressman was able to extract that, she was able to get that under the Freedom of Information Act so we know that this is true. We know it's true. There's no question about what really happened.
Melissa Gallico: So you're saying the Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service convened a panel of experts to discuss fluoridation and their final report was not reflective of their expert opinion or even of the draft report. What was the approximate time frame for this panel?
Dr. Carton: Right before the standard was proposed, so it must have been 1984, 1983, somewhere around there. I hope these things are available online somewhere.
Melissa Gallico: I will definitely do some searching and if I can refine the results of this Freedom of Information Act request or the Surgeon General's final report, I will put those links in the show notes. It will be really interesting to see how that report differs from what the expert panel was discussing.
Dr. Carton: Yeah, the conclusions they came to, which they put in a draft report where altered. Because they called dental fluorosis a serious health effect and that got taken out in the final report. And they had other things to say about effects on the heart, kidneys, I don't remember all the details, but there were things that they had concluded which were taken out of the report which would have damaged the government's attempt at setting that high standard.
Melissa Gallico: One of the other sources of political pressure that I read about came from states with naturally occurring fluoride in their water supply. I think the state that was mentioned with South Carolina. There was a senator from South Carolina who was pressuring the EPA, I think through the Office of Management and Budget, to raise the safety standard because of the cost that they were incurring from filtering fluoride out of the water supply. Is that a possibility or did you see any evidence of that kind of political pressure?
Dr. Carton: Don't forget there are two standards. The economics only applies to the maximum contaminant level. So they didn't... if the health standard had been 1.0 or 0.5, they wouldn't have had to do 0.5. They still could have done 4.0 based on economics and feasibility. So it's really, I guess, disingenuous to say that it was threatening the economics. It wasn't. But what they were afraid of, of course, is that if everybody knew that, they would stop fluoridation overnight. And actually that would be a cost savings. An enormous cost savings because you wouldn't have to buy the equipment. You wouldn't have to buy the dangerous chemicals and transport them. The hydrofluorosilicic acid which they use in most water supplies to add fluoride is an extremely hazardous substance to transport.
Melissa Gallico: In your presentation to the Science Advisory Board you outlined how the EPA could correct their policy by applying standard procedures to the analysis of fluoridation. Your recommendations included three parts. One was focusing on certain scientific end points required by law such as determining the acceptable daily dose. The second was bringing in world renowned experts who had published extensively on various risks from fluoride exposure. And the third was creating an independent scientific assessment committee with no conflict of interest to peer review their report. Did you ever see any traction with any of those recommendations?
Dr. Carton: (laughing) No, not at all. A lot of these experts had sent in information. When the proposal came out in the Federal Register with calls for comment, well, they sent a whole bunch of comments in. They were totally ignored. Totally ignored. So there had to be a different venue where these people actually get a chance physically to have discussions with experts and have it all out in the open. But they managed to sweep everything under the rug and not consider them.
Melissa Gallico: Based on your experience as a risk assessment analyst at the EPA and everything you've learned about fluoride over the past forty years or so since this issue first came to your attention, if EPA scientists were to follow the proper policy for determining the maximum contaminant level for fluoride in drinking water, do you have any instinct on what that number would be?
Dr. Carton: Well, probably less than 0.5 parts per million. Probably down around the natural background level which is 0.2. The stuff is very dangerous, it does affect your brain, and I don't know that anybody has actually determined a no-effect level for the substance.
[*Dr. Carton wishes to make the following amendment to his original answer: "The MCLG should be zero because the total amount of fluoride people are exposed to in food, beverages, air and medicines exceeds the health effect level for a number of endpoints. I don’t believe EPA has determined a no-effect level for fluoride."]
Melissa Gallico: Through your work on fluoridation with the union, you eventually started receiving requests from citizens who wanted to end fluoridation or prevent fluoridation in their communities and you used your personal leave to fly around the country and give presentations about fluoridation. How successful were those efforts?
Dr. Carton: Well, one success was in a court case where a lady was slandered because of her claims about fluoride with reference to a particular individual and so I went out and helped defend her in that and she won her case. But other places where I gave presentations, it didn't necessarily make any difference at all. I was up against dentists and people who unfortunately were trusted in their opinions, which shouldn't be the case but it is.
Melissa Gallico: Is the EPA union still active in exposing the scientific fraud concerning fluoridation?
Dr. Carton: Well, right now I'm not sure. Of course it used to be that way when we were there, myself and Bill Hirzy and I should mention Bill Coniglio who was the first president of the union who also helped get this started. There was a group then and it was very adamant and doing all kinds of things like the amicus brief. But I think the interest has waned since we didn't really get very far. We did get some publicity on it and we've been able to help citizens around the country in the fight but I don't think anybody wants to take it on. It's a career-ender. It's not going to help your career at EPA if you're bucking the upper administration.
Melissa Gallico: Dr. Carton, thank you so much for being on the show. When I was preparing for this interview, I was reading the memos that you wrote back in the 1980s and the legal arguments about dental fluorosis and children and I was thinking about how I was one of those children at that time and you were doing that thankless, frustrating work to protect children just like me. So I especially want to thank you for that. And before we go, there are some quotes by you circulating around the internet and I went to verify if this one is authentic. Does this sound like something you would say? The quote is, “Fluoride is the greatest case of scientific fraud of the century, if not of all time.”
Dr. Carton: Oh yes, I absolutely did say it. What people don't mention is, I wasn't the first person to say that. My memory is failing as to the gentleman's name but the scientist who discovered streptomycin said that years before I said it. And when I said it, I didn't know that I was quoting him at the time because I came up with that on my own but he had actually said it. I actually met him when I was at Rutger’s studying for my doctorate and I worked for him for a brief moment and his name escapes me, I'll have to go look it up. He was going to get the Nobel Prize for this and he refused the Nobel Prize, and this is for another time, but he refused the Nobel Prize because they were going to give him and his supervisor a joint prize and his supervisor had nothing to do with his discovery so he wouldn't accept it. [The real story of Albert Schatz and his Nobel Prize can be found here.]
Melissa Gallico: It's still surprising to me when I read articles about fluoridation in the mainstream press and they claim the science on fluoride has long been settled. There was an article published by NBC News just last year where the journalist wrote a line that said, “to experts, objecting to fluoride is nonsensical.” But if you look at the leading voices objecting to fluoridation from the beginning they've been highly credentialed experts.
In addition to yourself and the other EPA scientists at the union who voted unanimously to oppose fluoridation: there's Dr. Yiamouyiannis who we mentioned earlier; George Waldbott who was one of the most preeminent allergists in the country in the 1950s and who quickly observed that a certain portion of the population is hypersensitive to fluoride, people like me who have fluoride induced acne or hives or other side effects that he documented in double-blind studies soon after fluoridation was introduced; there was the longtime editor of the Journal of the American Dental Association, L. Anthony Pierce, who resigned shortly after the controversial editorial he wrote questioning the safety of fluoridation; Dean Burk, the head of the cytochemistry department at the National Cancer Institute; Arvid carlsson, a Nobel prize-winning neuropharmacologist, and just so many others. But those individual narratives are ignored because the official party line of the big three-lettered federal agencies like the EPA and the CDC insist there is no scientific controversy, even when there is clearly a massive controversy among their own scientists as your experience with the union demonstrated. What do you think it will take for these big federal agencies to look in the mirror and see that they are deceiving themselves and the American public on fluoridation?
Dr. Carton: I don't think they'll ever do it unless they're forced to do it by a significant court case. I agree with Bill Hirzy that that's probably the only way we are going to get any action is when the courts decide that people have been lied to and then hopefully the fallout from that will be to get to the people who actually have been promoting this and see them brought to justice. But the first thing of course is to get rid of fluoridation. So it's going to have to happen in the courts, and somehow there will be a breakthrough. I don't know how.
Melissa Gallico: My guest, Dr. Robert Carton, was a chemist and risk assessment manager at the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency from the 1970s to the 1990s and a former president of the EPA union of professional employees. In an upcoming episode with one of his successors, Dr. Bill Hirzy, we'll hear more about the EPA union’s historic opposition to fluoridation culminating in Dr. Hirzy’s dramatic congressional testimony in June 2000 in front of the U. S. Senate to call for an immediate moratorium on artificial water fluoridation over concerns by EPA toxicologists that fluoride is a carcinogen.
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