Whistleblower Dr. William Marcus, the EPA’s Senior Science Advisor & Its Only Board Certified Toxicologist, Bullied and Fired after Questioning Fluoride Safety

In 1990, Dr. William Marcus, senior toxicologist in the Office of Drinking Water at EPA, was fired for publicly questioning the honesty of a long-awaited government animal study designed to determine if fluoride causes cancer. Upon examining the raw data of the experiment, Dr. Marcus found clear evidence that fluoride causes cancer, and suggested that a review panel set up by the government to review the data had deliberately downgraded the results. Before Dr. Marcus was fired, EPA Inspector General John Martin issued a report on him “which contained slanderous, false and derogatory information,” said Mr. Reich. The report’s charges were “unsubstantiated,” and that “the true reason for the discharge was retaliation”, Mr. Reich said. Dr. Marcus said the report was an attempt to discredit him because he had testified in 38 court cases about the harmful effects of chemical produced by national and international companies. Dr. Marcus said EPA officials sent out memos calling him “a threat,” claiming that he had carried a gun to work to possibly kill his superior.

When Dr. Marcus was about to be fired from the EPA, although he was an absolutely distinguished and long-standing scientist with unparalleled reputation and credentials, he visited Stephen Kohn at the National Whistleblower Center. Mr. Kohn reports that:

In this case, the mutagenicity of fluoride supports the conclusion that fluoride is a probable human carcinogen. He had recommended additional research be conducted within the agency to make sure that the amount of fluoride that was added to drinking water was safe. Dr. Marcus showed me other documents that indicated that the United States Environmental Protection Agency was very upset with him for this recommendation and in fact had initiated this campaign to fire him. This document was properly prepared within the context of his job as Senior Science Advisor, meaning the highest level scientist with EPA, who was not unsupervisory. He is the ‘guru’ scientist you go to for the tough issues.

Dr. Marcus reviewed the literature, reviewed the materials before him and set forth basic scientific facts in this document to his supervisors, and said we need to study this matter because if fluoride does pose a health risk, we have to monitor how much we put in the drinking water, or if we should put in any at all. He showed me a memo (below) he wrote on the fluoride issue that indicated that fluoride could have severe adverse health effects on people.

William Marcus PhD added:

The agency decided that I wanted to change public policy as an individual rather than going through the agency’s procedures. Which was totally untrue. They decided that rather than deal with me on a scientific basis they would find an excuse to fire me.

The Inspector General went to great lengths to fabricate material to show that I was doing terrible things. They fabricated a time card claiming that I had stolen time.

Stephen Kohn:

Steven M. Kohn-National Whistleblowers Center

The Inspector General was called in by the agency to try and develop a case against Dr. Marcus. It was an underhanded play. The IG Inspector General should be investigating companies and polluters, not scientists. But they came in and ran an investigation that was a sham. We subpoenaed the Inspector General. We knew the investigation was a sham. And they called the Investigator, the Chief Investigator in for maternity week. She admitted as we deposed her.

She opened up the file. She carefully reviewed each document and then put notes and other information into the shredder and destroyed them for ever.

Consequently the role of industry in conspiring to destroy Dr. Marcus’ career was covered up.

Because we believe this wasn’t just an EPA attack, it was EPA doing the bidding of powerful special interests. The EPA actually fired Dr. Marcus, its Senior Science Advisor, its only board certified toxicologist. They fired him and we took it to trial, had a full-scale trial for a number of weeks in front of a Department of Labor judge. He heard both sides and ruled down-the-line for Dr. Marcus. His memo was legally protected.

The EPA retaliated against Dr. Marcus because he wrote a memo criticizing fluoride, and calling for more research. His termination was reversed. Dr. Marcus was reinstated with back pay and damages for his loss of reputation. He received all attorney’s fees and costs. The decision was upheld on appeal. Dr. Marcus was returned to work for the EPA as its Senior Science Advisor.

William Marcus:

The outcome was that I won my case because it was shown that all the charges that they had made were untrue. With the exception of one, which was that I used the wrong pronoun. In giving testimony to help people injured by large corporations, I had used the term ‘WE’ referring to EPA’s activities, instead of ‘EPA.’

Stephen M. Kohn:

That should have been the end of it.They should have stopped harassing Dr. Marcus and started listening to their board certified Senior Science Advisor. The United States Environmental Protection Agency did not fix the problem. They did not suspend or fire the employees who had engaged in illegal retaliation. These employees remained in place. So when Dr. Marcus was returned to work, the same managers who fired him, the same chain of command was in place to continue harassing Dr. Marcus.

So we had to file a second lawsuit to force them to stop the harassment. And guess what? We had a full trial on the merits. And we won the second lawsuit. I do not know why the EPA did what it did to Dr. Marcus. But I do represent whistleblowers. And I can tell you they went after Dr. Marcus with a vengeance, a vengeance. He was a board certified toxicologist with years of seniority. The most respected toxicologist within the agency, with an international reputation.

When he wrote that Memo, they went after him like he was an enemy of the state. They just hammered and hammered and hammered, and they went way over the line by destroying evidence, obstructing justice. And even after we won the first case and they were ordered to reinstate Dr. Marcus, they went after him again.

Even though there were two court rulings finding retaliation, the EPA never touched or disciplined those agency officials involved. This case marks a black mark on the EPA and raises fundamental issues about scientific freedom and about fluoride and why this agency went against one of its most respected scientists on that issue.

“Fighting the federal government is by no means an easy task,” Dr. Marcus said describing a two year legal battle with his employer. “Since (EPA Lawyers) have jobs and their job depends not upon doing what is right but on fighting, they will fight forever…It is a vicious circle in which the costs to the taxpayer are never considered.” “There are independent, hard working EPA scientists who are afraid to publish the truth because they’re afraid of losing their jobs.” Dr. Marcus said. “It has a chilling effect.”

He was vindicated in December of 1992 when Administrative Law Judge David A. Clark, Jr. ordered EPA to give him back his job, with back pay, legal expenses and $50,000 in damages. EPA appealed, but the appeal was turned down in 1994 by Secretary of Labor, Robert B. Reich who accused EPA of firing Dr. Marcus in retaliation for speaking his mind in public. Reich found among other things that EPA had shredded important evidence that would have supported Dr. Marcus in court. The original trial proceedings also show that EPA employees who wanted to testify on behalf of Dr. Marcus were threatened by their own management. EPA officials also forged some of his time cards, and then accused him of misusing his official time.

Dr. Marcus’ troubles and harassment from his EPA bosses began when he wrote this memo on May 1, 1990:




DATE: May 1, 1990
SUBJECT: Fluoride Conference to Review the NTP Draft Fluoride Report
FROM: Wm L. Marcus, Ph.D., Senior Science Advisor, Criteria & Standards Division, ODW (WH-550D)
TO: Alan B. Hais, Acting Director, Criteria & Standards Division, ODW (WH-550D)

The conference was held in RTP at the NIEHS headquarters on April 26, 1990. The subject of the conference was a peer review of the NTP draft report on the toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of Sodium Fluoride in F344/N Rats and B6C3F Mice (Drinking Water Studies) NTP Report Number 393. Dr. Robert Scala was to chair this meeting but was unable to attend because of ill health. Dr. Michael Gallo appointed acting Chairperson. One of the attenders seated with the panel members was David Rall, Ph.D., M.D., Director of NIEHS. Dr. Rall took an extremely active interest in the proceedings and remained seated for the entire proceedings with only two minor interruptions.

The most disturbing part of the report was the continual reference to the historical controls as having the same or higher cancers as the test groups. On pages 89 – 90 of the report starting with the last paragraph the authors state the following:

An important consideration which limits the usefulness of the historical control data base in the current studies is that the diet used in all other NTP studies had not been closely monitored for fluoride content. Fluoride concentrations in typical batches of NHI-07 diet range between 28 and 47 ppm (.7 and 1.2 mg/kg/day)(Rao and Knapka (1), 1987). Assuming a minimum bioavailability of 60% (Tests show 66% absorption page I-18), the historical database animals actually constitute a group receiving sufficient fluoride to place them between the low- and mid-concentration group in the current (the studies reviewed at RTP at the conference). The fact that this fluoride is available for absorption from the standard diet is supported by the levels of fluoride found in the bones of animals maintained on this diet in the six months studies (Appendix I). (The levels in the bones of the rats on the standard NHI chow was ten [10] times the levels of those fed the semisynthetic diet and deionized water, 0.922 vs 0.0901). If the fluoride [is] in fact influencing the “spontaneous ” or background incidence of osteosarcoma in male rats, comparisons with those in the historical database maybe misleading. This forces an even greater reliance on the within-study comparisons, ie., the incidences of the dosed groups compared with the concurrent control, in the interpretation of the results of the sodium fluoride studies. [italics in memo]

When I plotted a bar graph of osteosarcoma in male rats and placed the historical controls on the graph 0.6% is just where expected. This helps demonstrate a relationship between osteosarcoma and fluoride. The purpose of such graphs is to predict occurrence. Since the historical controls comprise some 6,000 animals, this data point is extremely significant compared to the other three. Osteosarcoma is an extremely rare animal tumor and may be the result of the variable high fluoride content in the feed. In order to demonstrate this, all that need be done is require that the fluoride content of animal chow be lowered dramatically and that fluoride be removed from the water given to the animals under study.

The dose of fluoride to which the concurrent controls were exposed is 0.2 mg/kg/day. A 70 kg man who drinks 2 liters daily is exposed to 0.03 mg/kg/day. The “control” animals were exposed to an amount of fluoride six to seven (6-7 X) greater. Lois Gold, Ph.D. of the review panel concluded that, “this group of animals therefore, can hardly be termed a control group. It can best be described as a lowest dosed group.” This is an important consideration because as the document reports on page 9, the levels of fluoride in bone are linearly dependent upon dose and length of exposure (“depends upon total intake”) in people. The level of fluoride in ashed samples of bone of 20-30 year old people is 200 – 800 mg/kg compared to 70 to 80 year old people of 1,000 – 2.500 mg/kg. In the document, the authors cited Zipkin (2) who reported on bone fluoride concentrations in four groups of individuals with average ages of 56 to 76 who lived in areas with fluoride concentrations in drinking water of 0. 1, 1, 2.6, or 4 ppm The relationship to bone fluoride concentrations and water fluoride content was linear; bone fluoride ranged from about 800 to 7,000 ppm ash with increasing water fluoride.”

In the animal studies the levels of fluoride (Appendix I) found in the bones of the animals were the same as or lower than those found in people. The highest dosed level of rats had lower levels of fluoride in their bones (5,470 ppm) compared to people (7,000 ppm) at the MCL of 4 ppm. This can be interpreted as people who ingest drinking water at the MCL have 1.3 times more fluoride in their bones than male rats who get osteosarcoma This is the first time in my memory that animals have lower concentrations of the carcinogen at the sight of adverse effect than do humans. An important toxicologic consideration is that a toxic substance stores at the same place it exerts it toxic activity. This is true of benzene and now for fluoride. Fluoride however, is at twice the concentration in human bones compared to benzene which is 10 to 100 [times] greater in animal marrow. This portends a very serious problem. One would expect to be able to discern a carcinogenic effect in the exposed population when compared to the unexposed population especially if data exist on the populations before fluoridation.

Yiamouyiannis and Burk published epidemiology studies that have since been revised twice (3), by Burk (former head of the Cytochemistry section at NIH). In these extensively peer reviewed papers, the authors found that about 10,000 deaths a year are attributable to fluoride water treatment. The U.S. Public Health Service (U.S.PHS) criticized the original studies by erroneously asserting that the results reported by the authors were a result of changes in the age, race and sex composition of the sample. The U.S.PHS made mathematical errors and did not include 90% of the data. U.S.PHS method of analysis when applied to the database, confirmed that 10,000 excess cancer deaths yearly were linked to fluoridation of water supplies. This evidence has been tested most recently in the Pennsylvania Courts and found scientifically sound after careful scrutiny.

There were three different short term in vitro tests performed on fluoride and all these tests proved fluoride to be mutagenic. An Ames test was performed and reported to be negative. Bruce Ames, in a letter to Arthur Upton introduced in the Congressional Record, stated that his test system was inappropriate for fluoride testing based on a number of technical considerations. EPA’s own guidelines require that in vitro tests be taken into consideration when found positive. In this case, the mutagenicity of fluoride supports the conclusion that fluoride is a probable human carcinogen.

Melvin Reuber, M.D, a board certified pathologist and former consultant to EPA and part time EPA employee, reviewed some of pathology slides and the Battelle report. Dr. Reuber has had his pathologic diagnoses questioned several times in the past. When an independent board together with Dr. Reuber went over the Slides his opinion was always upheld. He first published the work that identified hepatocholangiocarcinoma as a pathologic entity. The report changed Battelle’s board certified veterinary pathologists diagnoses from hepatocholangiocarcinoma to hepatoblastoma and finally to hepatocarcinoma. Dr. Reuber reviewed the pathology slides and stated that these lesions are indeed hepatocholangiocarcinoma. Because Dr. Reuber first identified and published his findings on this tumor, I trust his opinion in this matter. These tumors are extremely rare. Dr. Reuber’s diagnoses would make the liver cancers significant because of their rarity. This changes the equivocal finding of the board to at least some evidence or clear evidence of carcinogenicity. In addition, the oral changes in the report were down-graded from dysplasia and metaplasia to degeneration. Dr. Reuber said that this. change should also be reviewed. The report also down-graded adrenal pheochromocytomas and tumors to hyperplasia. This needs to be reviewed by an independent board. The other liver carcinomas were down-graded to foci by artificially defining a need for 75% compression in the tumor before it was no longer a foci. Using this changed definition carcinomas were down-graded to adenomas and adenomas downgraded to eosinophilic foci. In almost all instances, the Battelle board certified pathologists’ findings were down-graded. It is my suggestion that a board independent of NIEHS should be assembled by ODW consisting of human pathologists (for their experience in diagnosing osteosarcoma), the Battelle pathologist (to defend his original diagnoses), Dr. Melvin Reuber, Dr. Thomas Squires and two other well known independent board-certified animal pathologists. The charge to this board is to meet as a body, review the slides, agree on a pathologic diagnoses and prepare a report to be submitted to ODW for incorporation in our docket for the fluoride regulation.

The report talks about the efficacy of fluoride and tooth decay. Since the studies were performed to determine the carcinogenicity of fluoride this should not have been addressed. There appear to be at least four different publications from the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand that have reported similar or lower tooth decay rates in nonfluoridated areas as compared to fluoridated areas (4,5,6,7). Therefore, the entire question of the efficacy of fluoridation based on extensive and multiple studies has been called into question. Our job is to set safe levels for fluoride in drinking water based on the scientific evidence.

The problem with this meeting was the inability of independent reviewers to get to see the slides prior to the meeting. We must perform our own scientific review of the slides and write our conclusions for use in the development of the revised fluoride regulation.

  1. Roa, G.N., and Knappa, J.J. 1987. Contaminant and nutrient concentrations of natural ingredient rat and mouse diet used in chemical toxicology studies. Fundam. Appl. Toxicol.
    9, 329-338.
  2. Zipkin, L., McClure, F.J., Leone, H.C., and Lee, W.A. 1958. Fluoride deposition in human bones after prolonged ingestion of fluoride in drinking water. Public Health Rep. 73, 732-740.
  3. Graham, J.R., Burk, O., and Morin, P. 1987. A current restatement and continuing reappraisal concerning demographic variables in American time-trend studies an water fluoridation and human cancer. Proc Pennsylvania Academy of Sci. 61:138-146.
  4. Colquhoun, J. 1987. Comm. Health Studies. 11:85.
  5. Gray, a. 1987. J. Canadian Dental Assoc. 53:763.
  6. Hildebolt, C.F. et al. 1989. Amer J, Physiol. Anthropol. 78:79-92.
  7. Diesendorf, M. 1986. Nature. 321:125.

My job was to give my management the facts. Their job was to decide what they were going to do about it. My Memorandum was scooped up by one of my colleagues Bob Carton who was on a committee that the agency put together to review fluoride. It involved all the program officers, not just the officers of drinking water. Robert Carton released that memo to the public and explained what it meant to Roberta Baskin. I am sitting home one night and there it is appearing on the screen on the TV set, my memorandum. That’s where all the problems for me began personally.

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