Slow Death by Rubber Duck. Even the title sounds threatening. As we left our first meeting, a fellow book club member and I shared our feelings of excitement and trepidation over what we might find in our club’s first reading choice. The subtitle, after all, is “How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects our Health.”
Cuddled up on the couch, I threw suspicious glances at the objects in my house. “Which of you are emitting lethal toxins? Which of you are contributing to my slow death?” As I began to read, I discovered, well all, acutally.
This realization was both comforting and upsetting. Upsetting because it confirmed that there is no way to escape the reality that we live in a toxic environment. Comforting because it relieved some pressure, knowing that there are no hardcore purists who have purged every evil from their living spaces – no squeaky clean environmentalists who hold the rest of us to shame in their 100% toxic-free alfalfa sprout and straw-bale homes. We’re all in the same toxic mess. Even the hipsters’ home-grown sprouts were grown with water that likely contains toxins. But, there are things we can do. And that too, is comforting.
Part way through the book I became horrified by the toxicity of my vinyl shower curtain, steeping its chemicals into my children’s bathwater. I rushed out and bought a cloth replacement. Later, I learned that all synthetic materials contain brominated fire-retardants. I scowled at my newly purchased polyester curtain. I should have read the whole book first.
Smith and Lourie inspired me (besides unsuccessfully switching my shower curtain) to reduce the amount of plastics in my kitchen and to replace my children’s squirty bath toys. I also discovered that, although I thought I was using all natural personal care products, my shampoo had some questionable ingredients. It too got replaced.
Other book club members replaced their shampoo and conditioner. Conventional antiperspirants were given the boot. One member’s teenage daughter was inspired to switch her hand soap and her facial scrub. We all had a great discussion about bottled water, Brita filters (in plastic, potentially BPA- and/or PVC- ridden jugs), and the irony of our obsession with “clean” drinking water.
In the case of water, fire-retardants, hand-sanitizers and other everyday items, it seems odd, after having read Slow Death by Rubber Duck, that in our very efforts to protect ourselves from things that might cause immediate “danger,” we have exposed ourselves (and our communities and our planet) to toxins that pose potentially more hazardous long-term threats. Thank you, Smith and Lourie, for warning us about the slow death.