Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

by |May 21, 2010

Provocative and groundbreaking, Slow Death by Rubber Duck reveals how the living of daily life creates a toxic soup inside each of us.

Studies have shown that significant levels of toxic substances can leach out of commonplace items in our homes and workplaces. How do these toxins make their way inside us and what impact do they have on our health? And more importantly, what can we do about them? Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, two of Canada’s leading environmental activists, tackle these questions head on by experimenting upon themselves. Over a four-day period, our intrepid (and perhaps foolhardy) authors ingest and inhale a host of things that surround us all every day, all of which are suspected of being toxic and posing long term health risks to humans. By revealing the pollution load in their bodies before and after the experiment – and the results in most cases are downright frightening – they tell the inside story of seven common substances.

The pollution inside us is insidious. “We cannot see it; we often have trouble measuring it and it is very difficult assigning specific damage to chemicals that are so widely used. But the alarm bells are starting to sound.” Doctors, nurses, mothers and community activists are questioning why these toxic substances can be put into products without our knowledge and with no evidence that they will not harm us and legislators are just beginning to listen.

Ultimately hopeful, Slow Death By Rubber Duck empowers readers with ideas for protecting themselves and their families and changing things for the better. If you are concerned about the level of toxins in your body and want to understand the hidden threats already in your home, you must read this book.


Ten Ways to Detoxify Your Home
Recommendations from the authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck

1. Reduce non-stick products and stain repellants
2. Cut PVC plastic and fragrances
3. Eliminate Flame retardants in fabrics
4. Don’t use hard plastic containers
5. Eat Organic food
6. Have some fish in moderation
7. Stop using antibacterial products
8. Use natural household cleaning products
9. Call the companies
10. Contact Congress

Ten Ways to Detoxify Your Home
Recommendations from the authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck

Some of the most serious toxins in our lives come from hidden ingredients in the everyday consumer products found in our homes. The good news is that there are simple steps we can all take to reduce our exposure.

1. Non-stick products and stain repellants: These types of chemicals are found on furniture, carpets, clothing, non-stick frying pans and even fast food wrappers. Known as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), they are linked to cancer and can mimic human hormones affecting how the bodies and brains of children develop. To avoid these chemicals, don’t buy the latest “stain repellent” pants or shirts, replace your non-stick frying pan with stainless steel or iron, and pop your popcorn the old fashioned way (the inside of microwave popcorn bags are coated with PFCs).

2. PVC plastic and fragrances: Dangerous chemicals called phthalates are found in PVC plastic and a range of personal care products. They’re strange chemicals because they make plastic things feel soft and rubbery (the number one pollutant in a standard rubber duck) and they carry scent (the basis of many highly fragrant products) but they also mimic human hormones and harm children. The authors found that levels of phthalates increased by as much as 22 times after they used common, brand name personal care products. Simple ways to avoid phthalates include getting rid of your vinyl shower curtain, refraining from the use of synthetic air fresheners, and choosing unscented body care products whenever possible.

3. Flame retardants in fabric and foam: These chemicals, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), are linked to cancer, impaired brain development and a host of other health problems. They are in furniture, mattresses, curtains, carpets, and electronics. To avoid them, use natural fibers, such as wool, hemp, and cotton. There are also PBDE free foam mattresses and sofas. Many electronics companies are phasing out PBDEs and using safer alternatives, so ask stores or manufacturers to identify PBDE-free products for you.

4. Hard plastic containers: Polycarbonate plastic containers use bisphenol A (BPA) which mimics estrogen, and has been linked to a host of health problems from breast cancer to diabetes. The authors’ levels of BPA increased 7.5 times after eating canned foods out of a microwavable, polycarbonate plastic container. Don’t use any polycarbonate plastic containers, including baby bottles, re-usable sports bottles, or microwaveable containers. BPA also lines canned food, so choose fresh or frozen food when you can. And never microwave your food in plastic.

5. Organic food: Non-organic fruits and vegetables are grown with pesticides that can cause cancer and neurological disorders, as well as damage our immune and reproductive systems. Best to avoid pesticides whenever you can, particularly in dairy products and on your fruits and vegetables. Can’t eat organic? Wash all produce and eat a variety of foods so you’re not exposed to the same pesticide repeatedly. Also, growing your own food is an easy way to avoid pesticides, and have great tasting veggies. Start by growing fresh herbs; it’s easy to do and requires little space.

6. Fish in moderation: Fish is generally good for you, but levels of mercury increased by 2.5 times after the book’s authors ate tuna. Mercury is a known neurotoxin that harms the development of children. Mercury builds up in certain fish, so smaller fish are safer to eat than big fish. If you are pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant avoid all tuna, shark, and swordfish.

7. Antibacterial products: Antibacterial products may contain triclosan which weakens the immune system and is suspected of causing cancer. Antibiotic overuse has lead to the creation of “superbugs.” The book’s authors found their levels of triclosan increased an astounding 2,900 times just by using anti-bacterial soaps and other personal care products. It takes about three minutes of contact for tricolsan in these products to work, so traditional soap and water provides the best defense.

8. Household cleaning products: Most common products have a toxic mix of chemicals that often go unlabelled, but are linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer. The homemade concoctions our grandparents used are just as effective, are safer, and cost less. Consider using simple household ingredients such as soap, vinegar, baking soda, vegetable oil, and lemon juice for cleaning.

9. Call the companies: Companies that add these chemicals to their products are very sensitive to consumer demand, as are politicians. Read the labels, ask store staff questions, and call the 1-800 number listed on products to find out what is in them. The internet is now the source of many excellent consumer guides to help you.

10. Contact Congress: Ask your elected officials to pass legislation to make products safer.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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