Is adding fluorine to water supplies ethical?

Should we be using flourine in water supplies?

Every community considering fluoridation has to consider the benefits and any possible risks for themselves. Here are a couple of thoughts, and some resources for further exploration.

  • Apparently small differences in chemical structure can make a big difference in biological activity. Adding fluorine (F2) to drinking water would make it poisonous. Adding fluoride (F-), however, has some benefits. The fluoride reacts with a mineral in tooth enamel to make a harder, less acid-soluble mineral, protecting the tooth. You can't treat fluorine and fluoride toxicity interchangeably.
  • Biological effects of chemical compounds can be completely different at different concentrations. High concentrations of flouride can cause mottling of the teeth. And in fact at even higher concentrations flurides are quite toxic. But this is true of many other "beneficial" substances. Vitamins are essential for life- but in high dosages, vitamins are toxic. Is selling vitamins unethical? You can argue that vitamins are administered voluntarily while fluoride in public drinking water leaves the consumer with little choice- and you'd have a point.

The Ethics Center for Science and Engineering at Case Western Reserve University is a good place to go if you're interested in learning more about the ethics of chemistry. It contains a large collection of ethical scenarios and codes of conduct issued by many prominent engineering and science societies. Of special relevance to your question is the "Chemist's Creed", published by the American Chemical Society.

Author: Fred Senese

General Chemistry Online! Is adding fluorine to water supplies ethical?

Copyright © 1997-2010 by Fred Senese
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