[FOUNTAIN]Is fluoride a poison or a medicine?

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[FOUNTAIN]Is fluoride a poison or a medicine?

The word for fluorine in Korean is “bulso,” which comes from the Japanese. The scientific name of the element comes from the Latin word fluo, which means to flow.
The element is known for being a deadly poison, and has gone through some hard times since its discovery. Metallurgy specialists in the Middle Ages used fluorspar to separate minerals. When you add fluorspar to the minerals and pour sulfuric acid over it, the minerals will disintegrate, producing a vapor, hydrogen fluoride. By observing this process, Andre Marie Ampere discussed the existence of fluoride in 1810, but he never succeeded in proving it existed. Then even if one were able to separate fluoride from hydrogen it would immediately adhere to another substance, making it almost impossible to extract pure fluoride.
Until Henri Moissan was able to extract pure fluoride in 1886, numerous scientists died while attempting the process. The fluoride that was extracted after much difficulty became the lifeblood of modern industry. It was not only used to refine core metals such as aluminum, steel and beryllium but also to enrich uranium. Fluoride was also used to make rat poison, insecticide, Teflon plastic as well as bricks and ceramics. It is known as a chemical with two faces since it was a deadly poison but at the same time used widely in various industries.
The reason why fluoride has been a controversial issue in science is because tap water contains fluoride in some countries. Christopher Bryson, an American journalist, writes in his book “The Fluoride Deception” that since fluoride was added to tap water, its image has been manipulated from poison to a medicine that can cure any kind of disease. Putting fluoride in tap water started in the United States in 1945 to prevent tooth decay. That was after Trendley Dean, the father of fluoride, discovered that residents who drank water with fluoride had fewer cavities than those who didn’t.
Since then, American citizens have been drinking tap water with fluoride, but whether it is safe is still a controversial issue. The confusion gets worse since opponents and supporters both provide scientific evidence to support their argument.
Recently the administration and governing party said they are planning to revise the laws to make it mandatory to add fluoride to tap water in Korea. The Grand National Party proposed the same bill two years ago but had to withdraw it because of strong opposition from civic groups. Back then, an environmentalist magazine called “Noksaekpyeongron” had asked the public, “If you were forced to eat something that some say is poison and some say is medicine, what would be your choice?”


by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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