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."
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— 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