Book Review – Slow Death by Rubber Duck

‘In Slow Death by Rubber Duck, we argue that there is no separation between environmental issues and health issues.’

These are the bold opening lines of Rick Smith’s and Bruce Lourie’s intriguing and highly entertaining book about the secret world of toxic chemicals that surround us.

Slow Death By Rubber Duck is a shocking account of the authors’ journey to discover just how far toxins have invaded our lives in
very insidious ways.

The book is full of interesting and upfront information about the political wheeling and dealing and behind-the-scene cover ups of health effects and prevention of public access to information about toxic substances present in every day consumer products.

The authors point out that most of these toxins are often unnecessarily added to many every-day consumer products. It states: ‘Of the 82000 synthetic chemicals in use in the US, only 650 are monitored and only 200 have ever been tested for toxicity.’

The authors make no apology for their war on toxins, with the statement, ‘We won’t be surprised if this book annoys the pro-chemical industry, anti-environmental pundits who think, or pretend (we’re not sure which is worse) that nothing in society should be regulated without absolute
scientific certainty.’

Putting their own health on the line, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie show just how easy it is to become contaminated, by undergoing a number of experiments, exposing themselves to toxins ranging from triclosan & mercury, to Teflon, flame retardants and pthalates in childrens’ toys.

Their conclusion is: “…the best metaphor to describe the human body is ‘sponge’. We’re permeable. We’re absorbent.”

What they are saying is, the human body absorbs the toxic chemicals that it comes into contact with. If there are toxic chemicals in the places we live and things we buy, somehow they will end up inside us!!!

In every investigation, the authors demonstrate the very strong connection between environmental contaminants and human health, which is possibly the greatest strength of this amazing book.

The multitude of illnesses caused by exposure to chronic low-levels of toxins, will astound readers.

Slow Death by Rubber Duck is full of fascinating facts that will boggle readers’ minds. Here are a few:

• In 2005, Dupont (the company that manufactures Teflon) was fined US$16.5 million, for health damages to the community where it’s production plant is located in Parkersburg, West Virginia. In an out of court settlement, Dupont will spend US$ 80 mllion to set up a water treatment plant and over $20 million to establish a scientific body to investigate the health effects of Teflon. Dupont plans to phase-out the production of its non-stick PFOA by 2015. [My question is, ‘Does anyone ever tell you not to buy a non-stick frying pan?’]

• Many toxic chemicals, like DDT, are still present in our bloodstreams, even though they were banned 30 years ago. This is because of their persistence and inability to break down. Basically once they’ve been produced – they last FOREVER!

• Triclosan, is a toxic chemical and antiseptic found in many toothpastes, soap, shampoo, shaving gels and cleaning agents. After deliberate exposure by using the above-mentioned products for a 24 hour period, the author, Rick Smith’s triclosan urine level went from 2.47 ng/mL to 7180 ng/mL. That’s an increase of almost 3000 times in just 24 hours !!!!!!

• PBDEs, flame-retardants, found in bedding, clothing, electrical appliances, curtains, sofas and carpets, are highly toxic and linked to cancer and other health problems. They evaporate easily from these products and are present in most household dust. We breath them in all the time. Toddlers who are close to the ground are especially at risk.

• BPA is one of the most commonly produced chemicals in the world. In 2004 3 billion kilograms were produced. It’s in many, many products that we use all the time, and from the tiniest dose of 0.025μg/Kg/day the range of health effects include:

• Permanent changes to genital tract

• Predisposal of breast tissue to cancer

• Increased prostate weight

• Interference in brain structure and function

• Increased risk of developing diabetes and obesity

Slow Death by Rubber Duck also gives the low-down on the development of legislation to ban some of the toxic nasties in the US. These accounts of legislative change are scary for 2 reasons: 1) the average Australian isn’t even aware of these chemicals, 2) Australia has no equivalent legislation to protect our health – we are seriously lagging behind the rest of the developed world in addressing these issues.

Slow Death by Rubber Duck’s final chapter has an excellent section on how to minimise our exposure to toxins. Sadly, elimination is
well nigh impossible, but reduction is possible. Knowledge is power and to know how we can protect ourselves is also an excellent gift that the authors give readers.

In many places, the book points out that our children are at greatest risk from toxins, often carrying frighteningly high levels of many different toxins. This toxic load is called a body burden. By the time children reach our age their body burden will be severalfold higher than ours is now.
The only way we can change this is to introduce legislation that bans these chemicals in the products that we consume every day – from cosmetics to toiletries, children’s toys to building materials!

Slow Death By Rubber Duck
is an empowering, eye-opening and brilliant read – well worth the money. You can pick up a copy, or
order one, from Angus and Robertson, Fullers Book Shop, or Book City.

For more information visit:

Full Book Details:

Title: Slow Death By Rubber Duck
Authors: Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie
Date of publication: 2009
Publisher: University of Queensland Press ISBN: 978-0-307-39712-6