Jeff Green is not a nutcase. He doesn't rant about vast conspiracies or mind control or communist plots. Some might expect him to, though, because Green is opposed to putting fluoride in the water supply.
The lifelong San Diegan and national director of the nonprofit Citizens for Safe Drinking Water believes fluoridation is an unsafe practice promoted in a misguided attempt to improve children's dental health. He believes that scientific studies purporting the benefits of fluoridation are outdated, and that recent studies show fluoridation does more harm than good.
He believes that even without fluoridated drinking water, Americans already consume too much fluoride, a chemical the EPA classifies as a toxin. He points out that the FDA considers the fluoride used for fluoridation to be an "unapproved drug," and that the chemicals used for fluoridation are byproducts of aluminum and fertilizer manufacturing that contain concentrations of lead, arsenic and chromium.
But Green has a hard time getting people to believe him, or even to listen to him, because of deeply held stereotypes about activists opposed to fluoridation. "The promoters of fluoridation have been very successful at characterizing people as being not only anti-fluoride, but supposedly a quack or kook," he said.
That's why Green characterizes himself as pro-clean-water, not anti-fluoride. "I'm not part of the anti-fluoridation movement. I'm for safe drinking water," he says, explaining that whenever he reveals that he's opposed to fluoridation, "people's eyes roll back into their heads."
After becoming involved with clean-water issues, he found that most people associated the anti-fluoride movement with raving lunatics like General Jack D. Ripper from the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, who ranted about fluoridation being a communist plot to steal "precious bodily fluids" from Americans.
Green, who doesn't subscribe to any nefarious-plot theories, is trying to change that. He doesn't even want people to believe him-he just wants them to look at the facts. That's why co-founded the locally based Citizens for Safe Drinking Water with local dentist David Kennedy in 1996. The group basically functions as an information clearinghouse, providing a library of scientific studies along with advice to citizens who want to learn about fluoridation. The group has spawned dozens of independent chapters across the country, and even has chapters in South Africa and New Zealand. It runs a website (www.nofluoride.com) with links to reams of information. The group is also the only anti-fluoride group in the country to maintain an 800 number.
Green spends much of his time dealing with people in communities where the issue of fluoridation has come before local government officials. Oftentimes, he says, community members will find out only a few days ahead of time that a city council or water board is considering fluoridation. Curious and concerned citizens go searching for information, and Green is ready to provide it. He usually ends up traveling to speak to city officials during public hearings. "At one point or the other, I end up having to get on a plane and go someplace," he says.
All of which keeps Green busy. He gets 300 to 400 e-mails a day, along with several dozen calls. He spends one or two weeks a month on the road, traveling across the country to talk to citizens' groups and government types. If fluoridation comes up in Maine, or Iowa, or Georgia, or Kansas, the fluoride naysayers usually end up turning to Green.
Green never intended to become the national spokesman against fluoridation, but the role seems to have been thrust upon him. Before Citizens for Safe Drinking Water emerged, Green had no experience in activism, politics or environmental issues. He had been a management consultant for health professionals since 1971, and his clients included more than 400 dental offices. One of his services was teaching hygiene instruction, so dental offices could teach their patients how to take care of their teeth. At the time, "I didn't have any negative feelings about fluoride," he said.
But one of his clients was Kennedy, an outspoken opponent of fluoridation who convinced Green to take a closer look at the issue. Green began to study the research on fluoridation, and assessed the reliability of each study. The more he learned, the more he became convinced that the advocates of fluoridation were wrong. Since then, he has spent most of his waking hours working for Citizens for Safe Drinking Water. The group is all-volunteer, so Green still periodically does management consulting "in order for me to survive." But the 56-year-old gets up every day at 4 a.m. to answer e-mails and help prepare clean-water legislation for localities across the country.
The fluoridation fight landed in Green's own backyard on Feb. 11, when the Metropolitan Water District voted to begin fluoridating the water it exports to San Diego and millions of other customers in southern California. According to Green, the MWD "never made any attempt to have anybody come out and talk about fluoridation. They never called us up and told us. We found out through someone else." He was given exactly two minutes to speak to the board.
But Green doesn't see the MWD decision as a defeat-in his eyes it was only the beginning, not the end, of the local fluoridation battle. He plans to pressure the San Diego City Council to pass an initiative banning fluoridation and expects lawsuits from local districts and communities who'll argue they didn't have a voice in the MWD's decision.
"It woke a lot of people up that otherwise would not have been as involved," he says. And as always, he will be there to help fight for the cause.