Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Book review: Slow Death by Rubber Duck

I am certainly not a germophobe, but I am most certainly a chemophobe. That's why when I heard about this new book -- Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie -- I had to check it out (literally, from the library). Here's a book that further confirms my beliefs that we're all swimming in a pool of unhealthy chemicals that in many cases lead to an increase in various illnesses, most notably cancer.

This book spends eight chapters highlighting case studies dealing with seven extremely common yet ultimately unsafe chemicals we all encounter daily, along with the latest research by scientists and government agencies supporting that yes, in fact, these chemicals possess harmful side effects.

Here are the dirty seven:
  • Phthalates -- usually the chemicals that provide fragrance, but also present in some children's toys (like rubber ducks!).
  • Perfluorochemicals (PFCs -- aka Teflon) -- though normally just thought of in frying pans, these chemicals are increasingly in an array of products, including fast-food packaging (pizza boxes) and Gore-Tex clothing.
  • PBDEs (aka flame retardants) -- most infamously in children's pajamas, but also found on much furniture or in electronics.
  • Mercury -- found in large fish (think tuna), and also now being used in the popular compact fluorescent lights.
  • Tricolsan (aka anything antibacterial) -- found in many hand soaps and sanitizers, but also showing up in cosmetics and household cleaners.
  • Pesticides -- DDT is mostly a thing of the past, but others, such as 2, 4-D are popular and toxic.
  • Bisphenol A (aka BPA) -- a common component of #7 plastics.
Some of these chemicals have faced more regulation over the last few decades; some are being regulated in certain parts of the world or the country; some are hardly regulated at all.

The authors add a personal element to the book by experimenting on their own bodies using these chemicals. They don't do anything outrageous; they eat tuna, microwave food in plastic containers, and breathe in air freshener, among other everyday activities. Then they enlist several scientists to help them collect frequent blood and urine samples before, during and after exposing themselves to everyday toxins. The results are, of course, troubling when the authors provide charts illustrating their initial toxin levels followed by toxin levels after exposure that are sometimes several times the amount deemed safe by the Centers for Disease Control.

Chapter 9, titled "Detox," is the most practical chapter of them all. If you're already convinced that chemicals in everyday products are bad for you, you can just skip to this chapter. "Detox" teaches you how you can reduce these toxins. Realistically, you can't avoid toxins. Even Inuit people near the Arctic Circle have toxins, such as PFOA (aka Teflon), in their blood because this chemical lasts for centuries once it's in our environment.

So, "Detox" helps you live with toxins. Now, I am not giving up my shampoo and conditioner, but I am trying to be careful when it comes to many of the suggestions given in this book. Most of this chapter reconfirmed some of my beliefs, and other parts gave me some new suggestions. Some highlights:

  • Phthalates -- Eventually take down our PVC shower curtain liner and replace with a more natural product.
  • Perfluorochemicals (PFCs -- aka Teflon) --Dump our non-stick pots and pans if they show signs of scratches, which is when they become a more serious hazard.
  • PBDEs (aka flame retardants) -- Donate or recycle old electronics to avoid increasing the amount of PBDEs in the environment (check!)
  • Mercury -- In addition to not eating much tuna (done), always return mercury-containing products, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, to stores such as Home Depot that recycle them properly.
  • Tricolsan (aka antibacterial) -- Give up my Bath and Body Works antibacterial hand soap (but it smells so good...probably from the phthalates).
  • Pesticides --We can't afford to eat all organic, all the time, but we can do a better job of buying The Dirty Dozen in organic varieties.
  • Bisphenol A (aka BPA) -- Never heat up food in the microwave in plastic containers, which includes plastic wrap. (Side note: Plastic wrap is something I've always hated, mostly because I can't for the life of me figure out how to make it stick without using half a roll.)
Now, if you know me, you know I don't advocate getting rid of items that still function appropriately. So, I won't be throwing anything out or radically altering my existence as a result of this book, but I will try to make better choices whenever I plan to bring something new into our house.

1 comment:

  1. Another thought about BPA: don't drink out of water bottles that got hot in the car and there is also concerns about heating plastic (#7) baby bottles.

    You can now get BPA-free plastic water bottles and baby bottles. Camelbak has some as well as other companies.