Posts Tagged 'pollution'

Slow death by rubber duck: how the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health

“When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”  ~ James Whitcomb Riley

We consume hundreds of toxic chemicals from the things we use day to day to keep ourselves sheltered, fed, clothed and healthy. So say authors Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie in their recent book Slow death by rubber duck: how the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health (Knopf Canada, 323 pages, $32). But they are hopeful that things can change for the better, noting a recent European ban on noxious flame-retardant chemicals in television sets, Canadian legislative changes to end toxic baby bottles, and a new U.S. law to restrict hormone-mimicking ingredients in the plastic of children’s toys.

Almost everything we use, recline on, sleep in, eat off, wash with, or rub into our skin is a source of pollution. “For most people belching smokestacks, sewer outfalls, and car exhaust are the first images that come to mind when the word ‘pollution’ is mentioned,” the authors observe. Pollution is still seen as “an external concern, something floating around in the air or in the nearest lake. Something that can still be avoided.” But research makes it clear that pollution is so pervasive “it has become a marinade in which we bathe every day.”

Pollution is actually inside us all. It’s seeped into our bodies. And in many cases, once in, it is impossible to get out.

Toxic chemicals are now found at low levels in countless appliances, in everything from personal care products and cooking pots and pans to electronics, furniture clothing, building materials, and children’s toys. They make their way into our bodies through our food, air, and water.

From the moment we get up from a good night’s sleep under wrinkle-resistant sheets (which are treated with the known carcinogen formaldehyde), to the moment we go to bed at night after a snack of microwave popcorn (the interior of the bag being coated with an indestructible chemical that builds up in our bodies), pollution surrounds us … It has been estimated that, by the time the average woman grabs her coffee, she has applied 126 different chemicals in 12 different products to her body.

The authors advise readers on which products to choose in order to avoid the ones that are most dangerously polluting. But these are only short-term solutions. “For the long-term fix,” they warn, “only improved government regulation and oversight of toxic chemicals is the answer. It’s critical that we address this problem, not only as consumers, but also as engaged citizens demanding better of their governments.”

Rick Smith, one of Canada’s leading environmentalists, is director of Environmental Defence, a non-profit organization known for its innovative work on environmental issues.

Bruce Lourie started one of Canada’s largest environmental consultancies. He works closely with governments, businesses, foundations, and non-profit organizations. He is president of the Richard Ivey Foundation, which supports environmental and other beneficial projects.

This is a modified version of a review by Roy LaBerge which appeared in the September 2009 issue of The CCPA Monitor.

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