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Academe Today
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Tuesday , September 8, 1998

"Chemical in Fluoridated Water May Cause Violent Behavior and Cocaine Use, Scholar Says"

By Vincent Kierman

BOSTON (Sept 8). A chemical used to fluoridate the drinking water of 150 million Americans may foster violent behavior and cocaine use in some of those who drink the water, a scholar said Friday at the annual meeting of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences.

Communities that use a fluoridation agent known as silicofluoride have higher rates of violent crime than communities that use an alternative method or do not fluoridate their water, said Roger D. Masters, a Professor Emeritus of Government at Darmouth College.

He based his conclusions on a series of statistical analyses of the characteristics of communities in Massachusetts and Georgia. Mr. Masters said that previous work by other researchers had suggested that the statistical pattern may reflect the way silicofluoride in water causes people to absorb more lead.

The lead blocks the action of calcium atoms in fostering the production of neurotransmitters in the brain - such as dopamine and seratonin - that appear to suppress violent behavior, he said. Thus the silicofluoride ultimately is responsible for more aggressive behavior among people who drink the water that has been treated with silicofluoride and whose diets are lacking in calcium, he said.

Calcium deficiency is more common among black people than among white people, which might help explain racial patterns of violent behavior, he said.

In one of his studies, Mr. Masters found that residents of 25 Massachusetts communities that used silicofluoride were more likely to have elevated levels of lead in their blood than were residents of 25 other Massachusetts communities that did not. Myron J. Caplan, a retired chemical engineer who has collaborated with Mr. Masters, told The Chronicle that silicofluoride was less expensive than the only other widely used fluoridation agent.

Mr. Masters analysis of 129 rural communities in Georgia also found that communities that used silicofluoride had elevated rates of cocaine use. Lead in the brain because of silicofluoride may be the link in that case as well, he said. Cocaine addiction appears to be tied to low levels of dopamine in the brain, and lead in the brain depresses the dopamine levels.

Mr. Masters said his study may challenge the common view that drug abuse and violent behavior are caused by a "moral defect" in the individual. In the case of silicofluoridated water, he said, the government may share in the responsibility for violence in society. "It is governments that determine what goes into our water supply," he said.

Last modified: 12 September 1998

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