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Slow Death By Rubber Duck :  How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health - Rick Smith

Slow Death By Rubber Duck

How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health

Paperback Published: November 2009
ISBN: 9780702237645
Number Of Pages: 336

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In the investigative tradition of Michael Moore ( Fahrenheit 9/11 ) and Morgan Spurlock ( Super Size Me ) comes a book that will change the way you look at everything around you.

'Why don't we experiment on ourselves?' What began as a joke became a two-year megaproject ...

We set only one ironclad rule: our efforts had to mimic real life ...' Pollution is no longer just about belching smokestacks and ugly sewer pipes - now, it's personal.

When Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie decided to tell the story of pollution in our modern world by using their own bodies as laboratories, they could not have known what they were about to discover. They ingested and inhaled a host of things that surround all of us all the time, from mercury-laden tuna to flame-retardant chemicals in clothes and furniture, to toxins in plastics, shampoos and deodorants.

Slow Death by Rubber Duck exposes the extent to which we are being poisoned every day of our lives, both in our homes and our workplaces. It tells the shocking story of corporate giants who manufacture these toxins, the government officials who let it happen and the effects on people across the globe.

Funny, thought-provoking and disturbing, Slow Death by Rubber Duck offers solutions for how we might be healthier, safer and more aware.

omprehensive Rubber Duck!


A very Comprehensive set of exhausting research and practical applications. Often too detailed, one can get lost in the evidence, but enlightening and helpful if you have the stamina to cope with scientific information and statistics.

Adelaide, SA


Must Read


Great well written informative book. Everyone should read this work, it could help the world to get healthy.

Armidale Australia


Slow Death By Rubber Duck

4.0 2


The Experiment

"Why don't we experiment on ourselves?"

What began as a joke, an offhand thought, quickly became a two year megaproject. The more we chewed it over, the more doable it seemed. What better way to demonstrate, in concrete terms, the impact of daily life on the pollution load our bodies all carry than to deliberately ingest a whole bunch of these suspect substances and see whether they did, in fact, linger in our systems?

We set only one ironclad rule: Our efforts had to mimic real life. This may seem obvious, but it was actually a very useful guiding principle as we wrestled with the details of the experimentation. We couldn't chug a bottle of mercury. We couldn't douse ourselves in Teflon. Whatever activities we undertook had to be run-of-the-mill things that people do every day…

Over the course of the book, Rick experimented with phthalates (in toys and personal care products); bisphenol A (found in plastics); brominated flame retardants (found in upholstered products and electronics) and triclosan (the active ingredient in many anti-bacterial products). Bruce experimented with non-stick chemicals, mercury (one of the oldest toxins known) and pesticides. Increases and decreases in the levels of these chemicals in their bodies were monitored by taking blood and urine samples before and after performing a variety of everyday activities.

The results will surprise and horrify you.

You'll never look at a rubber duck the same way again!

The truth of the matter is that toxic chemicals are now found at low levels in countless applications, in everything from personal care products and cooking pots and pans to electronics, furniture, clothing, building materials and children's toys. They make their way into our bodies through our food, air and water. From the moment we get up from a good night's sleep under wrinkle resistant sheets (which are treated with the known carcinogen formaldehyde) to the time we go to bed at night after a snack of microwave popcorn (the interior of the bag being coated with an indestructible chemical that builds up in our bodies), pollution surrounds us.

Far from escaping it when we shut our front door at night, we've unwittingly welcomed these toxins into our homes in countless ways. In a particularly graphic example, it's been estimated that by the time the average woman grabs her morning coffee, she has applied 126 different chemicals in 12 different products to her face, body and hair.

And the result? Not surprisingly, a large and growing body of scientific research links exposure to toxic chemicals to many ailments that plague people, including several forms of cancer,reproductive problems and birth defects, respiratory illnesses such as asthma and neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

We have all become guinea pigs in a vast and uncontrolled experiment.

At this moment in history, the image conjured up by the word "pollution" is just as properly an innocent rubber duck as it is a giant smoke stack.

-From the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck

The Authors

Dr. Rick Smith

Rick Smith is a prominent Canadian author and environmentalist and Executive Director of Environmental Defence Canada (since 2003).

A biologist by training, Rick completed his doctoral research on an endangered subspecies of freshwater harbour seal in arctic Quebec with a nearby community of Cree hunters. From 1997 to 2002 Rick was Executive Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Canadian office and acting Director of the Fund's UK office for a year. While at the Fund, Rick created high-profile and successful public efforts to end Ontario's spring bear hunt, won a groundbreaking Supreme Court of Canada ruling striking down the patenting of higher life forms and spurred the adoption of Canada's first federal Species At Risk Act.

As Executive Director of Environmental Defence Canada, Rick has established a reputation as one of the country's leading environmental campaigners with efforts such as the high-profile Toxic Nation campaign, which has tested prominent Canadians for measurable levels of pollutants in their blood. Other important new government policies that he has played a leading role in shaping include the Greater Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt, the largest in the world; Ontario's new Endangered Species Act, widely viewed as the most progressive in North America; and Canada's recent decision to become the first jurisdiction in the world to ban the toxic chemical bisphenol A from children's products.

Rick lives in Toronto with his wife Jennifer Story and their two young sons.

Bruce Lourie

Bruce Lourie is an influential leader and thinker in Canada's environment sector. His 20 year career is built on creating collaborative solutions to challenges facing non-profits, government and the private sector. Bruce is President of Ivey Foundation, a private charitable foundation focusing on environmental policy change. He is a Director of the Ontario Power Authority and a Director of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, one of Canada's largest community funding agencies. He is Chair of the Board of Environmental Defence Canada. He has expertise in toxic substances, green energy, forest conservation and environmental philanthropy. His work is characterized by introducing new angles to environmental work including one of the country's early leaders in making environment a public health issue.

Bruce may be best known for his ability to identify gaps in the environmental sector and creating vibrant and effective organizations to fill those gaps. He is a founder of a number of for profit and non-profit organizations including Summerhill Group, a prominent market transformation consultancy in Toronto specializing in energy conservation and renewable energy; the Sustainability Network, Canada's leading environmental non-profit capacity building organization; Enerquality Corporation, and the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers' Network. He was the founding Executive Director of the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance and the founding President of the Clean Air Foundation. Many of the organizations Bruce helped create are now regarded as models in their field.

Bruce is exceptionally active as an advisor to governments, industry and non-profits on a range of issues. He is proud of the fact that he has received political appointments from both Conservative and Liberal governments and has been appointed to international, federal, provincial and municipal bodies. He is also one of Canada's leading experts on mercury pollution but secretly loves tuna.

Sarah Dopp

Sarah Dopp is a community organizer with over fifteen years experience with social justice and environmental organizations. She has worked for social change both from the community and within various levels of government. When she's not organizing, she's supporting local farmers.


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.

ISBN: 9780702237645
ISBN-10: 0702237647
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 336
Published: November 2009
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 22.3 x 15.4  x 2.5
Weight (kg): 0.42
Edition Number: 1

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