The Environmental Impact of Fluoride on Brisbane

Principal Petitioner Colin Varian, Chermside
Date Closed Fri, 27 Feb 2015 This epetition has ended
No. of signatures 98 signatures

(View signatures)

Residents draw to the attention of The Lord Mayor of Brisbane regarding the Environmental Impact of Fluoride on Brisbane. Water fluoridation is a very wasteful way to deliver oral medication, and no Environmental Impact Statement has been carried out for Brisbane. Well over 120 tonnes of Chinese toxic waste needlessly is injected into Brisbane's environment every year and is increasing with population growth. From SEQWATER's own figures, more than 98 per cent of all residential water consumption goes nowhere near peoples mouths let alone near their teeth, and is not ingested. Assuming the average person drinks 2 litres per day, and the average daily residential consumption is 150 litres per day. More than 98 per cent of residential fluoridated water consumption would be used for such things as watering gardens, flushing toilets, cleaning, bathing,etc. I am sure that even a greater percentage of fluoridated water would flow back into the environment by industrial and commercial users, and no doubt even the fluoridated water used by Brisbane City Council would have a larger input percentage into the environment. As well as fluoride, this Chinese toxic waste includes Arsenic, Mercury, Lead and many other heavy metals. No commercial industrial company would ever be permitted to put such toxic waste into the environment. From SEQWATER's own figures, about 360 tonnes of Chinese toxic industrial waste is added to South East Queensland (SEQ) water and it costs about six million dollars to have the water fluoridated. Brisbane's share of this, would be from 33 per cent to 50 per cent of this 360 tonnes, of which over 98 per cent goes back into the environment. In 1997 a Brisbane City Council Water fluoridation Taskforce investigated and rejected water fluoridation.

A copy of Chapter 8, is provided below. Page 64 CHAPTER 8: ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF FLUORIDE 8.1 BACKGROUND AND ISSUES

The environmental impact of fluoride has never been fully considered in Australia in the debate about whether or not to fluoridate a public water supply. Consideration does need to be given to the impact of fluoride on the biological (plants and animals) and the physical environment (waterways, soil and air) of a community. It was clear to the Taskforce that there has been limited research undertaken which shows any potential impact (both benefits or risks) of fluoride in the environment, especially when fluoride has been artificially introduced. The majority of studies that have been conducted were on the impact of industrial fluoride. It has been surmised that the effects of industrial fluoride would be similar to sodium fluoride (the form most widely used to fluoridate drinking water supplies). There appeared to be few studies/research available on a community’s ecosystem, prior to and after the introduction of fluoride. Limited information/research was available on the effect of fluoride in a sub-tropical climate. The only study undertaken for the Brisbane area concerned the effect of industrial (hydrogen) fluoride. Brisbane is a sub-tropical environment and there is limited information available on the effect of fluoride within a sub-tropical environment. The Taskforce commissioned Dr Greg Miller from Envirotest (an environmental science based company) to carry out a review of the potential environmental impacts of water fluoridation. The study covered the following:

- identification of key issues from relevant studies/papers;

- an analysis of the findings of those studies/papers with particular reference to the chemical nature of fluoride compounds and the possible impact on Brisbane’s environment; 

- an assessment of the quality and reliability of those findings; and

- recommendations in relation to the impact of fluoridated water on the environment.


Dr Miller approached the issue from an eco-toxicology viewpoint and considered the following issues:

- properties of fluoride

- levels of fluoride in the environment (biological and physical)

- effects of fluoride on plants and animals

- assessment of potential impacts on Brisbane’s environment and

- characterisation of risks.

There was an existing natural level of fluoride in plants and animals. Plants take up fluoride from air, soil and water and accumulate it in the leaves. The natural fluoride content of vegetation was in the range of 1 and 10 parts per million. Fluoride was taken up by animals and stored mainly in the skeletal or exoskeletal parts of the body. Fluoride is a chemical element and the introduction of any fluoride will produce a toxic response in the environment. Some species of animals and plants would adapt to the introduction of additional fluoride. However, fluoride would affect some species and at different stages of their life cycle e.g. an adult form of a species may be more sensitive that the juvenile (e.g. rainbow trout). The introduction of fluoride to the environment would present a relative (increased) risk to livestock, some terrestrial and agricultural plants, sensitive freshwater plants and animals, and freshwater creeks (especially under low flow conditions) found in the Brisbane area. The study summarised the relative risks for plant and animal classes in terms of a hazard ranking of likely species sensitivity from 0 - 3 (negligible, low, medium and high). Exposure related to the likely presence of fluoride in plant or animals’ habitat at concentrations that could effect sensitive species.

The table below refers:

Page 66 Relative Risk Scores for Plants and Animals of Brisbane Area Hazard Exposure Risk Plants Marine 1 x 1 1 Freshwater (1) x 1-2 (1-2) Terrestrial 2 x 1 2-4 Agricultural 2 x 1-2 2-4 Animals Birds 1 x 1 1 Terrestrial Livestock 2 x 1 2 Other Mammals 1-2 x 1 1-2 Invertebrates (1) x 1-2 (1-2) Insects 1-2 x 1 1-2 Freshwater Fish 1-2 x 1-2 1-4 Crustaceans 1 x 1-2 1-2 Macroinvertebrates (1) x 1-2 (1-2) Marine Fish 1 x 1 1 Crustaceans 1 x 1 1 Molluscs (bivalves) 2 x 1 2 Benthic Invertebrates 1-2 x 1 1-2 * ( ) high degree of uncertainty. ** 1-3 = Low Risk; 4-6 = Medium Risk; 7-9 = High Risk.

As outlined in the above table, the relative risks for livestock and possibly domestic animals (relative risk: 2), some freshwater animals (relative risk: 1-2) and freshwater plants (relative risk: 1-2) are considered low on a scale of 0-9. There is a higher level risk for terrestrial and agricultural plants (relative risk: 2-4). Some species of freshwater fish would be at an increased risk (1-4) due to Brisbane's climatic conditions. For example, the evaporation of water in summer (drought) would cause fluoride concentration to accumulate in the dry conditions, potentially exceeding the Australian Water Quality Guidelines for irrigation (1 mg/L) and livestock watering (2 mg/l). In Brisbane there would be a certain seasonal impact on the ecosystem.


The Review formed the following conclusions: • During low flow and dry periods, freshwater creeks were likely to contain variable

Page 67 fluoride levels of up to 1-2 mg/L compared with background levels of 0.1 mg/L. • Estimates of environmental risks for marine, estuarine, freshwater and terrestrial classes of plants and animals have been made. These indicated that risks of effects such as fluorosis or plant injury in sensitive species were generally low at the level of fluoride proposed. Considerable uncertainty exists though for major groups or classes of organisms such as invertebrates and birds. • Some urban vascular plants, vegetables and crops were likely to be sensitive to elevated soluble fluoride from watering or irrigation. Freshwater ecosystems were also likely to be vulnerable during low flow and drought conditions. • Livestock would ingest higher levels of fluoride from drinking water, fluoride watered forage and local feed. It was uncertain whether intake doses would be sufficient to cause symptoms or signs of fluorosis. • The review recommended that experimental studies and other biological assessments should be conducted on sensitive plant and animal species that reflect the region’s biodiversity, prior to any decision for the release of long-term additional fluoride into Brisbane’s environment.


A Taskforce member queried to the effect of fluoride on fisheries, especially their fertility rate. Dr Miller responded that fisheries, especially the juvenile species, e.g. prawns, etc, would be at some risk from the introduction of fluoride. In salt water, some species of adults would be more tolerant, however, juveniles (which live in bracken water) would be more susceptible. Within a sensitive species, part of the population, that is, the ‘sensitive within sensitive’ part of the population, may be eliminated.

8.4.2 The effects fluoride in comparison with that of chlorine being discharged into the waterways was discussed. Chlorine was also a toxic chemical. However, when it was treated with ammonia there was a decrease in the toxicity levels. An ecological study of a freshwater area at Bulimba has revealed that the area has recovered from the effect of chlorine. Fluoride, however, has a longer term, more persistent, toxicological effect on the environment. In effect, the fluoride ion remained for a much longer period in the environment than chlorine.

Page 68 8.4.3 A Taskforce member commented that Moreton Bay has been referred to as a ‘disaster area’ in terms of ecological damage. Moreton Bay cannot be compared to Sydney or Melbourne’s bays because Moreton is a closed system that ‘holds in’ most of what goes into it, whereas Sydney and Melbourne are more open systems. Dr Miller commented that brine shrimp could be affected (significant inhibition of growth) at a fluoride dosage of 0.5 parts per million. Dr Miller also estimated that 128 kilograms of fluoride effluent would flow into the bay each day. Dr Miller was asked what the effect of 128 kilograms of fluoride effluent per day would be on the marine life in Moreton Bay. Dr Miller explained to the Taskforce that Moreton Bay was under threat from a number of elements. A wastewater study has been commissioned on how the bay functioned and there was already concern about the west part of the bay near the wastewater discharge points (the area around Luggage Point). Sydney and Melbourne have temperate climates as well as ‘open-systems’, and cannot be used for comparison purposes with Moreton Bay (which has a sub-tropical climate and a ‘closed system’). The eastern part of the bay flushed well and the water there was of good quality. Dr Miller was of the opinion that there would be minimal change to the Bay within one year (with a fluoride effluent of 128 kilograms per day). Pollutants do take a while to flush out fully to the bay. The longer term effects, however, were uncertain and areas within a limited radius of discharge points would definitely be affected. Some marine species (e.g. prawns) may decrease, however, there are some species of crustaceans that are tolerant to fluoride and store it in their shells.

8.4.4 Taskforce members raised the concern over the pollutants already in the bay and the current affect of existing pollutants. The motion of water in Moreton Bay came from the western side (Luggage Point) around to Caboolture. There was already concern over a large area of sea grass (7 km x 2 km) near Pebble Beach, Deception Bay that died off each year because of pollution. From April to June each year, fish from this area were considered too toxic for human consumption. This ‘toxic’ area was now moving into the breeding grounds in Pummicestone Passage.

8.4.5 A Taskforce member remarked that there was insufficient knowledge about the effects of fluoride on the environment and that not enough studies have been undertaken on this issue. Dr Miller advised the Taskforce that there Page 69 were a number of world studies available but they needed to be adapted and applied to the local environment of Brisbane. The studies available focussed on specific issues e.g. the smelters at Gladstone, etc. In 1986, the University of Queensland undertook a study on the effects of hydrogen (industrial) fluoride on plant life in Brisbane. Dr Miller concluded that there were some sensitive species that would be affected by the introduction of fluoridated water to the environment, including terrestrial and marine species. Dr Miller’s personal opinion was that there would be no perceived environmental benefits from the introduction of fluoride.


Taskforce members had no specific area of disagreement, however, many members did have concern that there was insufficient research and information available on the effect of fluoride on the whole ecosystem. It should be explained that Dr Miller's study represented a limited, small-scale review of the existing literature, allied to his specialist knowledge of the local environment of Brisbane and the existing environmental threats. As Dr Miller recommended, more definite conclusions about the environmental impact of fluoridation of Brisbane's public water supply would require that experimental studies and other biological assessments should be conducted on sensitive plant and animal species in the locality.

Your petitioners therefore request that Council cease adding fluoride to the water supply, as there has never been an environmental impact statement (EIS) done, verified by the State Department of Environment, Heritage Protection, for the impact to Brisbane's land, fresh waterways and marine environment.