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Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health Hardcover – May 5 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada; Fourth Impression edition (May 5 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307397122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307397126
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2.7 x 22.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 540 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #225,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Quill & Quire

Science is full of stories about daring researchers who will go to almost any length to prove a point. When it is unethical, expensive, or just plain unfeasible to use animals or other people as test subjects, some intrepid souls have used their own bodies – sometimes with fatal results. Self-experimentation of the wiser kind frames Slow Death by Rubber Duck. Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie voluntarily ate, drank, breathed, and absorbed commonly encountered toxins, then measured samples of their blood and urine for intake levels. Their brief adventures in planned self-toxification led Smith and Lourie, both Toronto-based environmental professionals, to conclude that “Pollution is now so pervasive that it’s become a marinade in which we bathe every day.” The duo’s experiments involved a brief period in which the “guinea pig” attempted to cleanse a specific toxin from his body, followed by steps to maximize its uptake. For example, to test for the highly neurotoxic element mercury, Lourie ate expensive tuna steaks and sushi several times a day for two days. His readings went off the charts. Other experiments involved such seemingly benign activities as sitting on upholstery (flame retardants) and using microwave popcorn bags (Teflon), soft plastic (bisphenol A), shampoo (phthalates), and anti-bacterial soap (triclosan). In most cases, with even brief exposure, their levels of toxicity rose significantly. The stunt science, if you will, may be the book’s key feature, but what really stands out is the solid writing. Though chock-full of Canadian and international statistics, the book never sounds preachy or dense. Considering how undeniably depressing their findings are, the authors manage to stay this side of apocalyptic without sounding flippant. Not only is the book scary, it’s hard to put down. The take-home message from this excellent volume is that we don’t have the luxury to wait for governments to impose limits on chemicals. It is up to us, as consumers, to stay informed, so that we stop being guinea pigs ourselves.


"Indispensable and unputdownable, Smith and Lourie take our — and their — toxic temperature. As scary as it all is, the really surprising part is how easily we can start cleaning up our act."
— Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of The Way the Crow Flies and Fall On Your Knees

"Open this book and you'll never look at a rubber duck the same way again. . . . [Slow Death by Rubber Duck] goes beyond scare tactics to solutions that we can all apply to our daily lives."
Green Living"A fascinating and frightening read leavened by frequent references to pop culture — everything from Saturday Night Live episodes to quotes from Miss Marple — as well as the authors' brio in using their own bodies as test subjects. . . . Important and timely."
The Globe and Mail

"Alarming, engrossing, and just plain loony at times, their experiments drive home just how mundanely day-to-day our mass chemical poisoning has become."
— Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book from the authors at the Green Living show in Toronto on April 26. I am very glad that I did.
While reading it, I found myself nervously moving off the overstuffed sofa and Scotchgard-saturated dining room chairs while I realized that my now-past love of tuna sushi led to the early symptoms of mercury poisoning.
The chemicals are everywhere, and this book tells you why. It is written in a jolly, anecdotal style that contrasts with the horrific information inside.
Everyone should read this book. It should be required reading for all politicians.
Buy it and read it often. The first chapter will be a shock, the rest will have your jaw dropping.
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Format: Hardcover
Not often do I refer to a non-fiction book as a page-turner, particularly a book about the earnest topic of the environment. But Slow Death by Rubber Duck got me hooked immediately. I opened it up to a random page and started reading the part when the authors deliberately attempt to poison themselves in a room full of toxic products while eating a strict diet of mercury-rich tuna. I couldn't book the book down.

It turns out that the shocking absurdity of our chemical life makes for a gripping narrative. Slow Death introduces the reader to the hidden and insidious menu of toxics we breathe, eat and drink everyday, yet the story is told with humour and personal experience, not only by the book's engaging authors, but also through the discoveries and struggles of tenacious scientists and activists we meet along the way.

I should add the book does give the reader hope, but not in the usual obligatory last chapter list of 'things you can do' way. Each chapter is its own compelling chemical journey, including battles won, substances banned, ordinary people making a difference for the health of their kids and their planet. And the practical list of products to avoid (and substitute) is definitely worth a fridge magnet.

Truly, this is the best book from the "science and environment" section I've picked up in years. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Two years ago my beautiful aunt passed away from lymphoma, around the same time as Wendy Mesley came out with her documentary which asked some very hard questions about sources of cancer, increased rates of cancer, and why cancer research agencies aren't doing more on the prevention side of things.

I have always suspected that her disease (and many other people's as well) was a result of the toxic chemical soup all of us are exposed to every day. This book provides very telling evidence about the ways in which toxic chemicals affect our bodies.

This book is incredibly well written and topical, and provides a fantastic narrative with which to illustrate the ideas we should all be considering. Often books like this leave me feeling disempowered and gloomy - but not here. The authors celebrate the positive changes that have been made and offer practical alternatives for us to integrate into our everyday lives.

As a soon to be mother, it empowers me to consider ways to reduce harmful exposure for my baby, myself, and my whole family.

I highly recommend you read this book!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is definitely one of the better books out there on environmental toxins! The book takes a detailed look at 7 widespread environmental toxins and their impact on human health. The book is somewhat unique in that the authors demonstrate how sensitive our bodies are to common use, by testing on themselves (deliberate exposure through typical usage). The last chapter provides detailed tips to limit our exposure (common places where the chemicals lurk, etc):)

*The book is entertaining - the information is scary but I believe the average reader will find it easier to get through than other books I've read on the subject.
*The book provides history of use, regulations, and scientific studies on each of 7 toxins covered.
*The book provides details on potential impacts of exposure and how long these chemicals remain in our bodies/ environment
*The book provides recommendations on how to limit exposure
*Detailed look at 7 toxins, rather than broad look at all
*book is well organized
*bonus: the book is written by Canadian authors and is directly applicable to Canadians (discusses current regulations in both Canada and U.S... most only focus on U.S.)

Another good book about environmental toxins is the Hundred-Year Lie - I enjoyed both, but found Slow Death by Rubber Duck far more entertaining and more useful in terms of mitigating the impact of these chemicals in our daily lives. Definitely recommend reading both though.
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Format: Hardcover
Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health

While I was aware of, and had followed in the news, the bisphenol A controversy, I had no idea how pervasive chemicals and specifically the petrochemical industry has permeated everything from what we eat to our everyday personal care products. As the book mentions, these chemicals have a greater impact on children because of their smaller size and metabolism and that's disturbing. I've read elsewhere that chemicals in our environment (home, food etc) have possibly been a contributor to the rise in diabetes because specific chemicals affect the hormones in our bodies. This book certainly provides more food for thought in that respect. I only had to look in my own cupboards at food, plastics, additives in shampoos, body creams, and cosmetics to realize I was 'bathing' my own family in these chemicals. The question I came away with was, 'why do we need all these chemicals, all these products?' And since, now use pure glycerin to moisturize and read labels to ensure I'm reducing the infiltration of chemicals in my family's environment. As the author points out, it's impossible to completely rid yourself of them as they've entered our water, soil and air. Nevertheless, you can reduce your own exposure--a real eye opener.
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