Summer, a time for eating, drinking and catching up on some reading all of which you often do while on vacation or enjoying a lazy afternoon at the cottage. With this in mind.....and as many of our Guest Bloggers are, have or will be taking vacation, we thought for the summer months we would change gears and blog about a book we think is worth reading. While perhaps not topping the charts like "Fifty Shades of Grey", "Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health" by Rick Smith, with Bruce Lourie and Sarah Dopp is an excellent, although at times exasperating book.
The easy-to-digest tone of the book, and the lighthearted title might lead one to misjudge the seriousness of the message, but make no mistake that the core of the book is very serious indeed even to the extent that the researching of it became a real threat to the well being of its author.
While taking a pause from the process of stuffing a child's Christmas stocking Smith read the fine print on a package of socks. The label identified that Triclosan - a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent registered with the US EPA as a pesticide, and linked to human health effects and antibiotic resistance - was a component of the sock fabric. In fact Triclosan showed up in many of his child's stocking stuffers from rubber ducks to underwear, and the discovery of its ubiquity launched Smith on an unnerving adventure. After reading this, I took the "Triclosan Challenge" and read through countless product labels in my home. Much to the chagrin of my husband we no longer use his favorite brand of toothpaste and you will most definitely NOT find any antibacterial soap in the Kenny household. I don't care how great a sale is on!
The book describes in detail an experiment in which the author turned himself into a human guinea pig. Having identified potentially hazardous pesticides, preservatives, and other known toxins (to humans and/or the environment) Smith purchased scores of brand-name products in which these agents appeared and resolved to use the exclusively over a 4-day period. The products included stain removers, shower gel, shaving cream, soap, microwaveable plastic containers, toothpaste, air freshness, canned foods, and more. Blood and urine samples were taken before the experiment, regularly during, and at its conclusion. The results were remarkable. In fact so compelling that like the "Triclosan Challenge", at home we changed the type of canned tuna we eat, we no longer use non-stick cooking pans, and I can say I have probably only had 2 bags of microwave popcorn since reading this book several years ago.
In the course of the 4-day experiment, Smith's phthalate level, which is believed to cause testicular dysfunction in children, went up by 22%; the amount of BPA in his blood, linked to breast and prostate cancer, climbed 7.5%; and the level of Triclosan shot up by 3,000%!!! Triclosan is believed to interfere with thyroid function and is not metabolized by the human body or even by the sewage waste process, making it an almost ubiquitous environmental chemical in water. I wonder what the levels are in the Trent River where I just spent the weekend swimming and bathing in (using Triclosan and phthalate free soaps of course!).
Two conclusions are reached by Smith and his colleagues. "What we do in our everyday lives really matters in terms of the level of pollution affecting us". And, "It doesn't seem to matter where you live or what you do for a living; we're all united by pollution."
Regardless of the conclusions drawn, science is not the villain here. Science simply responds to the needs and/or wants of society. In recent years the rapid reduction of toxic and persistent chemicals such as gluteraldehyde, Triclosan, and quaternary ammonium compounds from the healthcare environment, and the explosion of less toxic products or procedures are examples of a scientific response to the desire of the marketplace. Humans needn't fear science; indeed this is a book of optimism. To close with the words of the author, "We're very much at a watershed moment. The scientific evidence of human harm from these chemicals is overwhelming. It's driving different consumer buying habits and forcing companies to change."
I hope you'll consider putting “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” on your reading list this summer. I have to admit, there we're times I had to put it down for fear of scaring myself into living in a bubble, but in the end I think I am a far wiser consumer!