The toxic nature of our world today cannot be ignored or avoided. It is literally all around us, and thus inside of us. The first step to empowering ourselves and understanding what we can do about it is to become informed. To help us do this comes a book from two of Canada’s leading environmentalists, called Slow Death By Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health. In this review I share about this book and how it can help you lead a less toxic and more natural life.

Being an avid fan of the Canadian organization called Environmental Defence, I was all too delighted when I found out that the two of its main leaders had published a book about the toxic nature of our everyday lives. The work of the Environmental Defence group in Canada is very similar to what the Environmental Working Group does in the United States. Both groups are influential in bringing the toxic nature of our world into full view and campaigning to bring about change where our health and environment is concerned.

Slow Death By Rubber Duck is a tremendous eye opener to say the least. The book exposes, examines and brings to light, 7 everyday substances that are toxic both to our health and the environment. And you will be shocked at how the researchers went about this work – they actually tested these products on themselves. Sound crazy? Well not to worry, when you find out how they did it, you will realize that most of us are doing the exact same thing every single day. And what of the results? They are frightening to say the least, but the good news is that with proper knowledge, there is hope.

Slow Death By Rubber Duck: The Origin

Slow Death By Rubber Duck is a new book that came out in May 2009. It was written by Rick Smith, who is the executive director at Environmental Defence and one of Canada’s leading environmentalists, and Bruce Lourie, who is the president and chair of the Environmental Defence board of directors, with help from Sarah Dopp, a veteran grassroots organizer.

Based on the pioneering research of Ken Cook and the Environmental Working Group, Rick and Bruce wanted to delve deeper into just how “toxic” people in the world are today . Previous work has shown that indeed there are toxins in all of our bodies, but Rick and Bruce wanted to know much more, such as where these chemicals were coming from, could they be avoided, what was the extent of the damage and much more.

Hence they devised an experiment, where they spent one week exposing themselves to a variety of pollutants. They tested 7 chemicals that we encounter in our everyday lives, and before you presume that “it is crazy to subject oneself to harmful chemicals on purpose”, they did nothing different than what most people do everyday.

In fact this was the golden rule, that the exposure had to be natural and mimic a normal everyday setting. They simply sought out products that they suspected were of great concern and used them, just like millions of people around the world use them each day.

The experiment included a reasonable detox, so that each of the substances was given a fair chance, and blood and urine samples both before and after to measure the changes of each chemical tested.

What they found through a simple week’s experiment, is enough to make all of our jaws drop, and not in a good way either.

Slow Death By Rubber Duck: The Structure & Content

Slow Death By Rubber Duck is a flowing read. Once you start, you may not be able to put the book down as it uncovers so much valuable information. It is over 300 pages packed full of information that will make your head spin, so be sure to take some time to “digest” the information in order to be able to apply it in your life effectively.

It begins with a short introduction, that provides some background on where things stand in our chemical world today and where we are introduced to the experiment that Rick and Bruce were about to carry out.

The book then continues with 9 chapters, which are as follows:

Chapter 1 – Pollution Then And Now

This chapter gives a more detailed background to the history of pollution, specifically to the presence of toxic chemicals in our lives and environments. It traces the problems of pollution right from the beginning of time, through to today and outlines how humans throughout history have dealt with it and how we got to be where we are today. It gives an explanation of body burden testing, which has began to take place since the beginning of this century on volunteers to detect what types of chemicals and in what amounts are actually in us, and finally finishes off with a detailed view of Rick and Bruce’s personal experiment.

Chapter 2 – Rubber Duck Wars

In chapter 2, Rick experiments with phthalates, where he examines the toxicity of children’s toys in detail, as well as plastics and personal products or any other household items with fragrance.

Chapter 3 – The World’s Slipperiest Substance

In chapter 3, Bruce experiments with teflon, as he does a detailed overview of the teflon chemical and the company that brought it to life. He does a thorough analysis of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which is just one of many perfluorinated compounds that is toxic to both the environment and our health. PFCs are most commonly found in non-stick cookware, but also make a presence in water-repellent fabric, scotchgard and STAINMASTER.

Chapter 4 – The New PCBs

In chapter 4, Rick experiments with brominated flame retardants, and examines PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), which are currently the most common flame retardants, as well as the infamous group of chemicals PCBs (polychlorinated bisphenyls) and their link to this discussion. He also explains some of the places where these are found in our everyday life and why they are detrimental to the environment and our health.

Chapter 5 – Quicksilver, Slow Death

In chapter 5, Bruce experiments with mercury, perhaps the oldest and most widely known toxin to humans and the environment. As you can imagine his experiment includes eating fish. In this chapter he does a thorough overview of mercury poisoning and examines the practice of mercury (or silver) dental fillings and impacts on our health.

Chapter 6 – Germophobia

In chapter 6, Rick experiments with the antibacterial chemical, triclosan, which has seemed to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, due to our incessant fear and obsession with germs. Here, he examines its unjustified and ridiculous overuse, as well as the serious issues of antibacterial and antibiotic resistance and its future impacts on our health, as more superbugs evolve.

Chapter 7 – Risky Business: 2,4-D and the Sound of Science

In chapter 7, Bruce experiments with 2,4-D, which being the most widely used herbicide in the world, is used in most lawn and garden fertilizers to control weeds. He covers in this chapter the progress that has been made in many municipalities to ban cosmetic pesticides and what our health and environment endure due to these substances.

Chapter 8 – Mother Knows Best

In chapter 8, Rick experiments with plastic, specifically focusing on the infamous bisphenol A. He tracks the products that have it and does a focused overview on the most fragile members of our communities – the babies and how they are especially impacted because of the toxicity of the BPA. On a positive note, Rick outlines here Canada’s victory in becoming the first country to start a BPA ban in products in 2008.

Chapter 9 – Detox

In this chapter, Rick and Bruce provide practical strategies on how to avoid the products that are most loaded with the 7 tested and highly toxic chemicals, and most importantly stress that every single one of our choices makes a difference in how much of a chemical burden our bodies have to carry and deal with. They offer excellent, concise and manageable tips to make our lives more chemical-free.

Slow Death By Rubber Duck: Personal Overview

To say that I was stunned, disgusted and moved to action while reading this book, is an understatement. Allow me to explain.

Stunned, because as much as I am researching chemicals on an ongoing basis, especially where personal products are concerned, I had no idea still, about so much that Rick and Bruce eloquently covered in this book.

That is why I say this book is a tremendous eye opener. We all live thinking that we are relatively safe, and that the governments will protect us from harmful chemicals. Well, we really need to rethink that whole notion, which brings me to my disgust.

I was disgusted because I cannot believe how slow governments are to act and how companies are defending their outrageously toxic chemical products just for the sake of money. I really don’t get it, in terms of “don’t they get it?” The people who make money and run these toxic places, who produce these toxic products are living in the same world as us, and using the same products. Sure, they are making money, but they are poisoning themselves, their children and the future world for their children in the midst of it. I mean does money really blind us that much? I guess I know the answer is yes, but it still does not take away from the overall logic here.

Most of these companies hide behind the paradigm of “innocent until proven guilty” and the idea which early toxicologists coined that “the dose is the poison” and that we simply need to determine the ”safe thresholds” for each chemical. Well, both bisphenol A and mercury outright prove those paradigms wrong, as our experimenters present.

When it comes to the possible dangers of chemicals in the world, I think that the only logical choice is to go with the precautionary principle of “better safe than sorry” where our health and that of the planet is concerned.

I was also more disappointed than anything else that companies are actually suing governments and organizations who try to ban their toxic products. I mean no wonder no one wants to speak out, they are all afraid. But we cannot let fear paralyze us, for we all know that if enough people speak up, changes come about. And the greatest difference any one of us can make, is not to buy the products that contain toxins or from companies who produce toxins, as much as possible, and then see how quickly they change when their dollars are no longer piling up as high as they’d like.

And finally, yes after reading this book, I was moved to action. I am glad to say that I consciously choose after some research almost every product that involves my body or life, but there is always more room for growth and improvement.

I know there are a lot of people out there who may read this book, or not even pick it up to consider reading it, out of an attitude of “oh what’s the point, chemicals are everywhere, there is no point in depressing oneself, as there is nothing we can do.”

Nothing we can do???? Let me tell you, as long as you do not stoop to that level of indifference and disempowerment, there is a lot that you and I can do. Bruce and Rick proved through their experiments that every single product that we buy or bring into our house is either going to increase or decrease the chemical load on your body. And while a rare few of us may live toxic lives, never to see the light of a disease, I for one would not be taking such chances.

Some of us have babies, some of us want to make babies, and some of us just want to live out happy and healthy lives. How can we sit back and not care? How can we sit back and ignore this situation pretending it does not exist? These are only questions that you can answer to and for yourself.

In the end, what were the results of the experiment for Rick and Bruce? More shocking, than even they themselves had anticipated. The results were frightening to say the least. I will not ruin for you the details, but simply say again – every choice you and I make when it comes to the products and services we use or buy makes a huge and most importantly noticeable difference to your body!

So, sure we can sit back not take any responsibility, and wait till the governments do something, or we can act today. Because trust me the government is not going to be there for you, if you or your child should get cancer or some serious allergy. We can continue to give our power away to others or we can start by taking responsibility and accountability for our own actions.

I personally choose to be responsible to and for myself, because at the end of the day, there is no one to blame for our choices but ourselves. And the days where we can plead ignorance are quickly disappearing. In the information age, where literally anything we need is a click away, it is simply a shame that more of us do not invest time in ourselves and our families, as those are the priorities above all else one would think.

So on a positive note, the best part perhaps of this book is that it does offer hope and lots of it! Changes were being made in many places in the world as the book was being written, and more changes continue as we speak. But we must be aware of what is going on and not be afraid to speak up for what we want, if we want those changes to continue.

A chemical-free life is not possible today, but thanks to people like Rick, Bruce and many others leading the way, we will continue to get closer to a world and life that is cleaner and healthier for us and our planet. Slow Death By Rubber Duck is an important book and definitely goes on my list of the top ten books any health conscious individual should read.

Update May 2014: Check out also my review of the new, follow-up book from the authors entitled, Toxin Toxout - Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World.