Water A Toxic Dump?

by George Glasser
Reprinted with permission from the Sarasota ECO Report, Vol. 4:12, December, 1994


"We began to worry when an emergency service officer introduced himself and declined to shake Mike's hand. We knew we had been exposed to a dangerous chemical; after that we began to feel contaminated. A towing service worker reminded me the next day, 'You don't know how close to death you came.'" This quote came from Orlando Sentinel reporter Bo Poertner, who was an eye witness to an accident near Deltona, Florida, on Sept. 6, 1994. Poertner was driving behind a tanker truck enroute to Raleigh, North Carolina, when it split in half and spilled 4,500 gallons of industrial grade hydrofluosilicic acid onto Interstate 4.

Hydrofluosilicic acid is the most corrosive chemical agent known to man: it is derived from toxic gases produced in the manufacture of phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizers; it contains lead, mercury, arsenic, and high concentrations of radionucleides; it is also the chemical agent most used for water fluoridation in the United States.

Because the industrial grade fluosilicic acid is a toxic waste by-product recovered from chimney pollution scrubbers ("scrubber liquor"), the volume of contaminants is profoundly influenced by the method of manufacture and the quality of raw materials used.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulates the amount of fluoride in the water supply, either ambient (organic calcium fluoride) or artificial fluoride (inorganic fluosilicic acid, sodium fluoride, etc.). EPA/SDWA regulations require artificially fluoridated water supplies to be monitored daily with ion selective electrodes, calorimetric (hydrogen titration), or complexion tests. These only determine the amount of fluorine contained in the water and not the accompanying contaminants.

The fluoride compounds have a propensity to concentrate in the water distribution system, and aside from monitoring at the point of introduction, daily samples are also required at distribution points. EPA/SWDA regulations state that if the level of fluoride exceeds the EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 4mg/L that the state be notified within seven days and initiate three different analyses at the same distribution point within one month. Compliance is determined upon the average of the four analyses. These tests are for fluorine content and do not account for contaminants carried with a fluoridation agent.

The American Water Works Association's (AWWA) publication, ANSI/AWWA B703-89, "Standards for Hydrofluosilicic Acid," recommends rudimentary analytical procedures and quality parameters for the fluosilicic acid used for water fluoridation, but these are only recommendations. Unless the state has passed specific legislation regulating the quality of fluosilicic acid used for water fluoridation, the liability rests upon the end user for insuring the quality and safety of the product used. The manufacturer is not required to supply certified analyses of fluosilicic acid; it is the purchaser's responsibility to require this information and perform the recommended tests to insure that the minimal standards are met.

Although recommendations and standards have been established, the entire system relies on voluntary cooperation and compliance between the manufacturer/vendor and the purchaser to comply with AWWA standards for fluosilicic acid. Unless the purchaser has the facilities to perform the recommended tests, there is no way of verifying the quality and safety of the fluosilicic acid.

The first test recommended by the AWWA for fluosilicic acid purity is a visual inspection to determine if there is an inordinate amount of insoluble particles floating around in the liquid.

In section 4.3 of AWWA B703-89 it states, "Two methods are presented for determining the percentage of fluosilicic acid. The specific gravity method will only provide a very rough approximation and should not be used for determining the exact amount of acid. If the facilities are available, the hydrogen titration method is the preferred method for determining the hydrofluosilicic content."

Considering the fact that fluosilicic acid is an industrial grade and can vary greatly as to specific gravity and acid content, the suggestion that a water department would be using hydrometers to attempt to measure the acid content is disturbing. The hydrogen titration method is more accurate, but as suggested in AWWA B703-89, not all water departments have the facilities to perform these rudimentary tests (if any tests are performed at all).

The test for heavy metals only indicates the approximate total volume of heavy metals calculated as lead, and is slightly more complex than determining the pH of swimming pool water.

The recommended tests for acid content and heavy metals can be done in a high school science laboratory and require nothing more than deionized water a pH meter, reagents, bromothymol blue and a minimal assortment of glassware. It is important to note that the tests only determine percentages and not quality, and in the case of heavy metals, the test is only an approximation.

In 1982, a Water Chemicals Codex was created listing the recommended maximum impurity content (RMIC), because of concern over the high levels of lead and arsenic contained in the industrial grade fluosilicic acid. The Codex addresses only the RMIC for lead and arsenic there is no mention of radionucleide levels.

Another coproduct from phosphate fertilizer manufacture is yellow-cake uranium. The radioactive coproduct is used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and the nuclear power industry. The wastes from the manufacture of phos-phate fertilizers are also contaminated with radium and are among the most concentrated radioactive wastes produced from natural materials. These radioactive wastes are referred to as naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) and the EPA has no regulations for NORM waste disposal.

The manufacturers of fluosilicic acid do not routinely monitor for levels of uranium contaminating the acid. No testing is done for NORM levels in Florida where much of the fluosilicic acid used to fluoridate municipal water supplies is produced.

SDWA/EPA regulations allow 5 pico-curies of radium per liter of water. Radium scale scoured from the filtration systems of phosphate fertilizer plants can contain up to 100,000 pico-curies per gram.

Because of the dilution factor in the production of fluosilicic acid, the EPA suggests that it is highly unlikely that levels of pico-curies would exceed the stated level in NSF/EPA Standard 60 (National Primary Drinking Water Standards) when added to a water supply. The only concern stated in the NAS/CWTC Water Chemicals Codex is regarding the levels of lead and arsenic: there is no mention of pico-curies of radionucleides. There are no EPA/AWWA standards regulating the pico-curies of radionucleides contained in fluosilicic acid and no recomended tests.

The EPA has abrogated the responsibility for regulating NORM wastes to the individual states. Manufacturers of fluosilicic acid are not obligated to monitor or inform the purchaser of NORM contaminant levels in the fluosilicic acid unless expressly requested by the purchaser. If the purchaser does not perform analyses for radionucleides, there is no way of verifying the manufacturer's analysis.

EPA/NSF Standard 60 established guidelines for the maximum contaminant levels (MCL) allowed in drinking water, and the EPA requires that the states regularly analyze for potability in accordance with Standard 60 and the SDWA. Unfortunately, the government-mandated analyses are only an illusion of security, performed after the fact on chemically treated water. By the time tests are performed on the treated water (if any testing is performed other than for fluorine content), it has already been used by the consumer. Neither Standard 60 nor the SDWA insure a modicum of protection against contaminated chemical additives introduced into water supplies.

The primary concern of the Safe Water Drinking Act is the sampling of water at the source and the fluorine content at distribution points. If contaminants are not detected through initial analyses, it is highly unlikely that a batch of contaminated fluosilicic acid would ever be discovered.

The symptoms of low level poisoning are similar to those of the flu and often diagnosed as such, although people with kidney disorders and diabetes are more likely to suffer more severe effects or death. The U.S. Public Health Service [PHS] would only receive notice of a rash of flu-like symptoms breaking out in the affected area, and no one would be the wiser.

The EPA's position on the use of industrial grade fluosilicic acid for the fluoridation of municipal water supplies is: the use of the industrial grade product is the ideal solution to the long standing dilemma of disposing of the hazardous waste by-product produced from the manufacture of phosphate fertilizers. By recovering fluosilicic acid, water and air pollution are minimized and water utilities are afforded a low-cost source of fluoride.

Food Grade fluoride is not used in the water fluoridation process because the cost factors would be prohibitive, although it would insure purity and consistency: In a l978 1etter regarding industrial grade fluoride additives being introduced into the U.S. water supplies, U.S. PHS chemist (ret.), Ervin Bellack states, "Since all of the water treatment experience has been gained using water treatment grade fluoride (industrial grade), it cannot be said that these compounds have not been clinically tested."

The concentrations of fluosilicic acid introduced into the water supplies are measured in parts per million (PPM) or milligrams per liter (mg/L); therefore, the EPA does not consider the contaminated acid to be a health threat, but rather a deterrent to the development of dental caries in children. However, a factor not addressed is that where fluoridated water is used to produce soft drinks and processed foods, heavy metals and insoluble contaminants become more concentrated with processing (up to three times the optimum recommended dosage per liter with soft drinks). The manufacturers of these foods and drinks are not required to list the incidental contaminant levels created by the use of fluoridated water.

Fluoride, heavy metals and insoluble contaminants contained in chemically treated water are concentrated with cooking (heating). There are no required or recommended tests to determine the cumulative contaminant levels ingested daily from chemically treated water. The SDWA/EPA basis the MCLs for the average amount of water ingested (drunk by an individual) in liters per kilogram of body weight and does not account for incidental sources like foods, processed or cooked, or soft drinks made with chemically treated water.

The EPA/National Research Council s 1993 publication, "The Health Effects of Ingested Fluoride," cites many "safety and effectiveness" studies regarding carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, etc., but the publication never states what grades of fluoride products were used for the clinical studies. There are industrial, food and pharmaceutical/ reagent grades of fluoride, and the results of those studies would depend greatly upon the grade of chemicals used.

Adverse health effects from the introduction of contaminants into water supplies are considered a "classic health trade-off" by the National Research Council and the PHS/EPA. The degree of potential adverse health effects created by the use of these industrial grade chemicals is directly contingent upon the socio-economic status of the people ingesting the treated water and food products using the treated water.

Children are the most susceptible to adverse health effects caused from the ingestion of chemically treated water. Children from families with good incomes suffer less from adverse health effects like dental fluorosis while children from lower income families are more likely to suffer adverse health effects.

In Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, the definition of fluorosis is: "Chronic fluorine poisoning, sometimes marked by mottling of the tooth enamel. Often results from too much fluoride in the drinking water." Using instances of dental fluorosis as an indicator, poor children are affected at a rate of 2.3:1 as compared to children from higher income families. This ratio suggests that the toxic contaminants associated with fluosilicic acid would also affect children's health in the same proportion. The reason for the disparity between economic brackets is nutrition; good nutrition provides enough minerals and vitamins to help the body counteract and pass many of the contaminants.

The incontrovertible fact is: The American Dental Association, National Sanitation Foundation, American Water Works Association, National Research Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advocate and promote the dump-ing of an unregulated toxic waste by-product (industrial grade hydrofluosilicic acid) into municipal water supplies under the guise of a beneficial public health project.

  SOURCES: Bo Poertner, "Chemical Spill on I-4 Turned into Dangerous Daylong Affair," Orlando Sentinel, 8 September 1994.

Morris Kennedy/Booth Gunter, "Wastes Bypass Federal    Regulation Despite Radioactivity," Tampa Tribune, 21 July 1991.        

Mark Hamilton, R.S., M.P.H.,  "Water Fluoridation: A Risk    Assessment Perspective", Journal of Environmental Health,    

May/June 1992.  American Water Works Association, AWWA Standard for    Fluosilicic Acid (American National Standard), 

American Water Works Association, 1989). Clarence Wilbur Taber, Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 
(F.A. Davis CO., Philadelpha, PA, 1994).        

"Proceedings of a Joint IDAR/ORCA International Symposium on Fluorides: Mechanisms of Action and Recommendations for    
Use," Journal of Dental Research, Vol. 69/Special Edition,  February, 1990.        

National Research Council/Environmental Protection Agency,    Health Effects of Ingested Fluoride, (National Academy Press,    
Washington, DC, 1993).            

CORRESPONDENCE: 1978 letter from Ervin Bellack, chemist for PHS Office of Drinking Water to Colonel George Lindegren 
regarding the use of    fluosilicic acid in drinking water. 

20 March 1982 1etter from Rebecca Hanmer, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water, to Leslie A. Russet, D.M.D.,    
regarding the safety of water fluoridation.