Toxic effects have been attributed to aluminum compounds since they came in use e. g. as ingredients in baking powders (1). During the 1920´s aluminum cooking utensils too were suspected of posing a health hazard (2) and ALCOA installed a “Utensil Fellowship” at Mellon Institute (3) to investigate the problem. When the occurrence of “mottled teeth” was observed among the inhabitants of a small bauxite mining community, Bauxite, Arkansas, chemists at the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) hypothesized that aluminum (contained as the oxide in the bauxite ore) might interfere with the metabolism of lime and phosphorus and thus cause or contribute to the dystrophy. Dr. Gerald Cox was hired to the “Utensil Fellowship” to investigate this possibility.
His results, reported in April 1931 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biological Chemists (4), but known to ALCOA much earlier (5), were interpreted by ALCOA´s research chemist Francis Frary to show what had been expected: “An excess of soluble salts of either iron or aluminum will eliminate this phosphorus, combining with the phosphorus in the foods to form insoluble phosphates, which are excreted. It would therefore appear rather probable that the presence of large amounts of aluminum salts in drinking water might be connected with the difficulties you mentioned” (5).
But that was the wrong track, as Luther Branting, Superintendent, Republic Mining and Manufacturing Co., Bauxite, suggested in his reply to Frary: “As to the particular well water which was causing the damage, this water was from the deep wells and not from the ordinary shallow wells in this section. The water from the ordinary shallow wells even though the well be sunk in bauxite, seems to have no bad effects. Bauxite children who had used spring water or ordinary shallow-well water instead of the deep-well water have good teeth” (6). A spectrographic analysis of the suspected water was carried out at ALCOA´s Laboratory in New Kensington and surprisingly revealed the presence of fluoride (7).
(1) McCollum E.V., Orent-Keiles E., Day H. G.: “The newer knowledge of nutrition”, New York 1939, pp. 275-278; (2) Bergman J.: “Aluminum: Satan´s metal and killer of millions? The Watchtower´s incredible crusade against aluminum“, Dec. 1998; (3) Weidlein E.R.: “Various results of being researchful”, Science 82 (Dec. 13, 1935) 553-562; (4) Cox G.J., Dodds M.L., Wigman H.B., Murphy F.J.: “The effects of high doses of aluminum and iron on phosphorus metabolism”, J. Biol. Chem. 92 (1931) XI; (5) Francis C. Frary to L. R. Branting, Dec. 9, 1930, in the ALCOA papers, Wisconsin State Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin; (6) L. R. Branting to Francis C. Frary, Dec. 12, 1930, ALCOA papers; (7) H. M. Laudemann to R. C. Cross, Jan. 6, 1931, ALCOA papers;