Power & Market

Rothbard was Right about Water Fluoridation

Water fluoridation was pushed in the United States as a public health policy for interventionist gain. The medical and environmental research has since shown that the alleged dental benefits to water fluoridation are outweighed by negative effects on other systems in the body. This compulsory measure has not only violated the rights of consumers, but it is also antithetical to human health.

Murray Rothbard in his 1992 essay Fluoridation Revisited uses his training as a historian to weave an engaging yet accurate narrative of who did what for who’s benefit in the push for water fluoridation in the mid-20th century. 

Of particular interest to me is the role the Mellon Institute, ALCOA’s research lab in my home of Pittsburgh, played in bringing about compulsory water fluoridation:

In 1931, the PHS sent a dentist named H. Trendley Dean to the West to study the effect of concentrations of naturally fluoridated water on people’s teeth. Dean found that towns high in natural fluoride seemed to have fewer cavities. This news galvanized various Mellon scientists into action. In particular, the Mellon Institute, ALCOA’s research lab in Pittsburgh, sponsored a study in which biochemist Gerald J. Cox fluoridated some lab rats, decided that cavities in those rats had been reduced, and immediately concluded that “the case [that fluoride reduces cavities] should be regarded as proved.”

The following year, 1939, Cox, the ALCOA scientist working for a company beset by fluoride damage claims, made the first public proposal for mandatory fluoridation of water. Cox proceeded to stump the country urging fluoridation. Meanwhile, other ALCOA-funded scientists trumpeted the alleged safety of fluorides, in particular the Kettering Laboratory of the University of Cincinnati.

During World War II, damage claims for fluoride emissions piled up as expected, in proportion to the great expansion of aluminum production during the war. But attention from these claims was diverted when, just before the end of the war, the PHS began to push hard for compulsory fluoridation of water. Thus the drive for compulsory fluoridation of water accomplished two goals in one shot: It transformed the image of fluoride from a curse to a blessing that will strengthen every kid’s teeth, and it provided a steady and substantial monetary demand for fluorides to dump annually into the nation’s water.

Suspicious Connection

One interesting footnote to this story is that whereas fluorine in naturally fluoridated water comes in the form of calcium fluoride, the substance dumped into every locality is instead sodium fluoride. The Establishment defense that “fluoride is fluoride” becomes unconvincing when we consider two points: (a) calcium is notoriously good for bones and teeth, so the anti-cavity effect in naturally fluoridated water might well be due to the calcium and not the fluorine; and (b) sodium fluoride happens to be the major by-product of the manufacture of aluminum.

30 Years Later

As it turned out, the research has shown that the nondental effects of water fluoridation in humans is harmful, according to health literature. Professor Philippe Grandjean published a 2019 meta-analysis on the subject titled Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: An Updated Review in the Journal of Environmental Health. Multiple large studies have shown that fluoride in early development “can result in IQ deficits that may be considerable.”

As for the prevention of dental cavities, Grandjean and others propose topical use of fluoride for that purpose, rather than systemic ingestion of fluoride.

Calculating the Yearly Population Level IQ Loss in Newborns due to Water Fluoridation in the United States

Schubert 1

Here I will attempt to calculate a rough estimate for the net IQ loss in Newborns in 2020 in the United States, using the causal research combined with population figures and data on overall water fluoridation levels in the United States. Perhaps of more interest to curious readers would be a similar calculation for your local municipality that fluoridates its water.

About 3.6 million babies were born in the US year 2020, and 73 percent of the US population “receive water that has the optimum level of fluoride recommended for preventing tooth decay.” And that “optimum level” per the CDC is 0.7mg/L which is equal to 0.7 parts per million. And in prenatal urine the benchmark concentration level (BMCL) to cause a 1 IQ point drop for children is 0.2mg/L (at a confidence level of 95 percent). [A big thank you to Professor Philippe Grandjean who pointed me to this article after I read his 2019 meta-analysis on the topic.] And we can assume this relationship is linear above the BMCL, as that best approximates the current data. There is a 1:1 relationship of water concentration to urinary concentration of fluoride. Therefore, pre-natal IQ loss from fluoride is 3.5 points per child whose mother drinks primarily fluoridated water at “optimum levels”.

If that 73 percent of the US population’s water has the “optimum level” of fluoride, translates to 73 percent of Pregnant women getting the “optimum level” of fluoride. Then 73 percent of newborns each year are experiencing this 3.5-point IQ deficit, with 73 percent of the 3.6 million babies born in the US in 2019 being 2.628 million.

2.628 million newborns with an unrealized IQ potential of 3.5 points each means that: 9.198 million IQ points of newborns were lost due to water fluoridation in one year in the US.

Not only that, but this number also undercounts the total newborn loss of IQ due to water fluoridation because the water fluoridation in some areas is higher than the “optimum amount” of 0.7mg/L. In some areas it is lower than that “optimum amount” yet still higher than the BMCL (benchmark concentration level bound) for 1 point of IQ loss, which is equal to 0.2mg/L. However, we are only counting the 73 percent of the US population that receives water at that “optimum level” per the CDC of 0.7mg/L.


The ongoing newborn population IQ loss due to water fluoridation is a public health disaster. Not only is it harmful, but it also violates the Nuremberg Code of Medical Ethics. It is imperative that local authorities cease the fluoridation of municipal water supplies and leave medical decisions between individuals and doctors that have earned their trust.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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