By: Yeeun Lee

Slow Death By Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things (Counterpoint, 2011) was written by two environmental activists, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. In attempts to prove that pollution isn’t merely environmental, Smith and Lourie expose themselves to numerous pollutants found in common household items. Using their own bodies as a reference point, they reveal the alarming truth that we are exposed to numerous toxins every day. Because they aim to see the impact that these common household items have on the average person, they make their research mimic everyday life. Among the many toxins out there, they decide to focus on 7 toxins, starting off with phthalates.

So what could a harmless rubber duck possibly do to you? Like many other children’s toys, rubber ducks contain phthalates. Used to increase flexibility, phthalates are found in different plastic and rubber items but also in items with fragrance. Any skin contact with items that contain phthalates can have detrimental health effects, including reproductive issues. Smith and Lourie also review Teflon, commonly found in non-stick kitchen items. Teflon is made up of PFOAs and PFCs, both of which are known carcinogens.

Image is of the book cover of "Slow Death by Rubber Duck". It is a white background with the title and authors at the top and a large image of a yellow rubber duck with five labels around the duck listing chemicals found in the product.
Cover of “Slow Death by Rubber Duck”

They then go on to investigate flame retardants, which are used in different textiles and materials to prevent fires but also have impacts on the immune system, and mercury, which humans are often exposed to by eating fish. Among many other effects, mercury is detrimental to the central nervous system.

Triclosan, found in antibacterial gels and soaps, causes skin problems like irritation but is also an endocrine disruptor. Next, they talk about DDT, commonly used in WWII for malaria control and now found in pesticides and gardening fertilizers. DDT has harmful reproductive effects. And finally, they talk review the effects of bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastic containers such as baby bottles. BPA affects hormone receptors, having harmful effects on the thyroid.

Through their various daily experiments, Smith and Lourie were able to show that one does not need to be exposed to these chemicals for a prolonged period. By eating canned food or drinking from plastic baby bottles containing BPA, they show how vulnerable our bodies are to these chemicals. Simply being exposed to them for two days was enough to see major rises in the levels of these toxins in their bodies. They also raise the critical point that children, whose bodies are still developing, are even more susceptible to these chemicals. Their goal wasn’t to tell people to avoid all of these chemicals, as it would be nearly impossible. Rather, Smith and Lourie want to raise awareness about the dangers of these chemicals by urging the public to be careful and informed. Thus, we recommend this book to the Destination HealthEU community.

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