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New MCS book
Sunday 15 November 2009
Slow Death By Rubber Duck
How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health
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 and flame-retardant chemicals in clothes and furniture, to toxins in plastics, shampoos and deodorants. The results of these experiments are both alarming and unexpected.
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.
But before the solutions ... here are the key concerns raised in Slow Death by Rubber Duck:
Solutions: Removing Remnants of Rubber Duck: 10 Ways to Detoxify
1. Eat organic: Non-organic fruits and vegetables are grown with pesticides that can cause cancer and neurological disorders, as well as damage to 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.
2. Avoid phthalates: Phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are found in PVC plastic and a range of personal care products. They're strange chemicals because they both keep plastic things pliable (making them the number one pollutant in your standard rubber duck) and carry scent well (meaning they're the basis of many products with a strong artificial fragrance). It's best to get rid of phthalates if you can because they 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. Say 'no' to non-stick and stain repellants: These types of chemicals are 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 (microwave popcorn bags are coated in PFCs).
4. Get gardening: Growing your own food means you can avoid pesticides, and have great-tasting veggies. Start by growing fresh herbs; it's easy to do and requires little space.
5. Dump the toxic flame retardants: These chemicals are linked to cancer, impaired brain development and a host of other health problems. Called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) or simply "brominated flame retardants", they are in furniture, mattresses, curtains, carpets, and electronics. To avoid them, use natural fibres, such as wool, hemp, and cotton. Lots of electronics companies are phasing out PBDEs and using safer alternatives, so ask stores or manufacturers to identify PBDE-free products for you.
6. Eat some 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 which 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. Make friends with germs: As flu specialists keep reminding us, the best way to stay healthy is to wash your hands with soap and water. Our fear of germs has led to an explosion of antibacterial products, from soaps to toothpaste. There are two types of antibacterial products, those with alcohol and those with triclosan. Alcohol is fine but triclosan weakens the immune system and is suspected of causing cancer. Its overuse can also 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. So read the labels and avoid products with triclosan.
8. Get rid of bisphenol A (BPA): Why? BPA 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. Polycarbonate plastic is the kind that is hard, and nearly impossible to squeeze or break. BPA also lines canned food, so choose fresh or frozen food when you can. And never microwave your food in plastic!
9. Use some elbow grease: Household cleaning 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. So before reaching under the sink, consider making your own cleaners using simple household ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, vegetable oil, and lemon juice. Add a little elbow grease, and that kitchen sink will be shining in no time.
10. Become an active consumer: Companies that add these chemicals to their products are very sensitive to consumer demand. So read the labels, ask store staff questions or call the 1 800 number listed on products and find out what is in them. At the end of the day government action is often needed to keep products safe, so raise these issues with your elected officials.
"Fantastically important - an indispensable guide to surviving in an industrial age." - Tim Flannery
Rick Smith is the Executive Director of Environmental Defence and is one of Canada's leading Environmentalists. He holds a doctorate in biology from the University of Guelph.
Bruce Lourie is an influential environmental thinker and started one of Canada's largest environmental consultancies. He works closely with governments, businesses, foundations and non-profit organisations. He is also President of the Ivey Foundation.
Slow Death By Rubber Duck
Interview with Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie
What made you decide to write this book?
Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: Curiousity! The need to pin down the specific pollution effects of using specific consumer products. For the last few years environmental organisations around the world have been testing people's blood and urine for measurable levels of toxic pollution. Well, it turns out that it doesn't matter who you are, what your age is, where you live or what you do for a living, we're all polluted. We all have measurable levels of synthetic chemicals in our bodies all the time. The residue of the toxins we come into contact with on a daily basis. What nobody had tried before, and what we set out to do in the book, was to establish cause and effect.
We experimented on ourselves to demonstrate, in real time, that pollution levels can be dramatically raised or lowered as a result of the most mundane daily activities like washing your hair, eating out of certain types of containers, or sitting on a couch watching your favourite show on TV.
Where you surprised at any of the results?
Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: The triclosan results blew our mind. This is the active ingredient in many anti-bacterial products, and it's been linked to thyroid problems and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. After only two days of using triclosan-containing antibacterial products bought off the shelf at his local grocery store, Rick's triclosan levels increased by a whopping 2,900 times.
Were there certain tests you just didn't want to do due to fear of the results?
Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: We opted not to try and increase our pesticide levels. The reason is that Environmental Defense was leading a campaign - at the same time that we were writing the book -- to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides. This ban is now in effect. It seemed slightly perverse to be simultaneously trying to rid our province of these chemicals and then spraying them on our lawn, and endangering the health of our neighbours, for the purposes of our book research.
What shocked you the most in your investigation?
Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: Just how dramatic the increase in chemicals in our body was as a result of the most commonplace of activities. Bruce's mercury levels increased 2.5 times after a few meals of tuna. Rick's phthalate levels increased by 22 times after using some common personal care products such as shampoo, conditioner, antiperspirant and shaving cream. And Rick's levels of bisphenol a increased 7.5 times after eating out of plastic containers. All of these chemicals are cancer-causing and disrupt hormones when they get into our bodies.
What was the most interesting result you found?
Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: How quickly the increases and decreases occurred in the case of some chemicals. The good news here is that for pollutants like phthalates and bisphenol A our bodies can flush them out within a matter of hours. So if we can limit our exposure, through taking some simple steps, we can almost immediately reduce our pollution levels.
Did you create the title for the book?
Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: Rick's wife Jennifer had the idea after walking by a particularly ducky display in the window of a toy store near their home.
How long have you lived your life by 'Removing Remnants of Rubber Duck: 10 Ways to Detoxify'?
Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: Quite a few years! Though what we've learned through writing the book has made us even more careful, especially with our kids. Kids are the most vulnerable to this sort of pollution.
The above originally appeared here.
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