I was recently given the opportunity to review a new and controversial book called Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things, by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate as the headlines dominating our local papers have been about a cluster of brain cancer cases in children in a South Florida area not far from me. What is causing the children in this area to develop cancer at such a disproportionate rate? Needless to say, environmental testing on the water, soil and air is being conducted. But it’s hard to say if a clear connection will be found. Experts say that so many variables are involved that it’s often difficult to tell what’s causing something like this.
However, it seems highly possible that an environmental toxin could be to blame. In Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the authors tell us that “children are most at risk to the effects of toxic chemicals in our food, water, and air. They consume more on a body weight basis than do adults, they breathe more rapidly and therefore inhale more potentially polluted air, they crawl around poking in dusty corners and stick everything they find in their mouths. But these activities simply explain how kids have greater levels of exposure. The most critical issues facing babies and children are that their developing bodies and brains cannot tolerate chemicals in the same way that adults can.”
Here are some other startling statistics from Slow Death by Rubber Duck “In 2007, the most recent year of data reported by the US EPA, 4.1 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were disposed of or released into the American environment. … To put this in context, this huge number refers only to the chemicals that are released into the environment in a year. Ten times that quantity of chemicals, or 42 billion pounds, are produced in, or brought to, the United States each day.”
And check this out: “There are 82,000 chemicals in use in the United States with 700 new ones added each year. Of these 82,000 some odd, only 650 are monitored through TRI [US EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory], only 200 have ever been tested for toxicity, and only five have been banned under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Not even asbestos is banned, a known carcinogen that has killed nearly 45,000 Americans over the past 30 years.”
I could go on forever quoting alarming numbers from this book, but what’s even scarier is that the authors, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, voluntarily chose to expose their bodies to seven of the chemicals found in everyday products. They measured the levels at which they showed up in their blood and urine, and came up with results that will make all of us rethink the products we use.
I have to admit that I was reluctant to review Slow Death by Rubber Duck at first. I knew it was going to be frightening. I really didn’t want to think about all of the chemicals in my home or the damage that they might be doing to my family. But I realized that if everyone turns a blind eye like me, we’ll make no headway toward making our homes and environments healthier for our children and grandchildren.
So, are we all doomed? If chemicals are everywhere, and their use is so ingrained in our culture, is it really possible to drastically reduce our exposure to them? The authors assure us that it is possible. The “green chemistry revolution,” they say, “holds huge promise. Many companies are now moving to make stuff in a non-toxic way…” But progress is slow in ridding our household products of dangerous toxins, and we must still make a strong effort to minimize harmful products that find their way into our homes.
Fortunately, we’re told, “there are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family. And many that will start to take effect almost immediately.” The authors give us very doable and practical steps for identifying toxins, choosing better personal-care products, improving our diets, selecting chemical-free toys and baby products, and much more. I felt a sense of hope in reading the authors’ assurances that we are not powerless in the quest to limit our family’s exposure to harmful chemicals.
Slow Death by Rubber Duck will enlighten, challenge, alarm, surprise, and encourage you. Of course, there are people who won’t want to hear this message, but I applaud the authors’ courage, both in using their own bodies as testing sites and in writing about the elephant in the closet that we often want to ignore. If we all read this book and implement the recommended changes, we could make great strides toward producing and using healthier products, ridding our homes and neighborhoods of toxins, and improving the health of our families.