We last interviewed Rick Smith in 2014, and we are excited to share his interview with you again, along with a few new questions and answers, in honour of the 10th anniversary of the book, Slow Death By Rubber Duck. This landmark book about the toxicity of everyday life has been expanded, updated, and re-issued, along with the experiments from Smith and Lourie’s second book, Toxin Toxout. We found out what’s been added to the new release, what we can do as consumers to protect ourselves and support cleaner products, and why he’s optimistic about the future.
If we can’t avoid exposure to toxins, is it worth trying?
Absolutely. Every little bit helps. What our two books show clearly is that using products that are less toxic measurably and quickly reduces chemical levels in the body. Given that children are disproportionately impacted by pollution (e.g. increasing rates of childhood asthma), this is particularly important to do for them. Not all chemicals are bad! I like caffeine, for instance. What we try to do is zero in on the handful of chemicals that doctors are now saying are a big health concern and demonstrate that progress is possible.
How did you justify experimenting with toxic chemicals on yourself?
The best way to tell this story is to use the human guinea pig approach. In the experiments in both Slow Death by Rubber Duck and Toxin Toxout, we and the other volunteers don’t actually do anything different than millions of Canadians do every day, we’re just careful to measure the before and after results with respect to chemical levels in the body.
Do you eat organic?
Big time. More than ever.
What are the biggest changes you’ve made personally since beginning your research about toxins?
I’m more determined than ever to eat organics, use greener products in the bathroom and buy less-toxic things whenever and wherever I get a chance. The good companies that are trying to make a difference deserve our support. (Can you hear us cheering? We believe that every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want!)
You co-wrote both books with Bruce Lourie. Does that make the process easier or more difficult?
Easier! Bruce is a good friend. We have fun together. And it’s much easier writing half a book than a whole one.
When you travel, do you ask hotels about their green initiatives?
I do. And I complain bitterly if the only toothpaste they have at the front desk is Colgate Total (which is the only toothpaste containing the toxic chemical Bruce Lourie
We encourage taking your own everything, especially since we deplore excess plastic packaging and waste from those sample size products in hotels! Here are some of our favourite places to visit.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Getting BPA banned in baby bottles in Canada. We became the first country in the world to do this. Then jurisdictions around the planet followed suit. Most recently, China just followed Canada’s lead.
Incredible. We will all continue to thank you for this, as will generations to come!
Ultimately, we need our governments to ban these problem chemicals and properly protect human health and the environment. Canada is falling behind the rest of the world. Do kids in Europe and the US and elsewhere really deserve better standards than Canadian kids? The last chapter of Toxin Toxout focuses on what it will take to build a greener, less-toxic, economy. That’s where Bruce and I are going to focus next.
Why are you re-releasing Slow Death by Rubber Duck 10 years later?
We wanted to update the story! There are two great pollution crises that pose an existential threat to humanity. One is climate change — carbon pollution — and it gets an awful lot of attention. Deservedly so. But the second, and no less serious, crisis is that of toxic pollution. The kind of pollution that drives elevated rates of breast cancer, prostate cancer and many other serious ailments. As a society, we’ve made some progress over the past decade reducing toxic pollution, but there is much work to do. We wanted to keep pushing the conversation forward.
What did you need to update and revise from the original release?
The 10th anniversary edition of “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” has a huge amount of new material. It contains all the original experiments that Bruce and I conducted on ourselves, where we showed how easy it is to raise and lower levels of toxic chemicals in our bodies through using different types of consumer products. We’ve added in the ground-breaking experiments from our second book, “Toxin Toxout” plus a blockbuster new experiment specifically for this edition. We’ve updated the stories of the chemicals throughout the book including the newest scientific findings on human health impacts and how governments and corporations are responding around the world.
Personally, do you believe things are better or worse? Has there been enough progress? How can we make even more progress?
We’ve definitely made some progress over the past decade. Let’s start with the fact that rubber ducks — and many children’s products — are now free of phthalates, BPA and other noxious chemicals. Unfortunately, these and other hormone-disrupting chemicals continue to lurk in consumer products that adults use on a daily basis. Some manufacturers are sincerely trying to make cleaner products, and some just aren’t getting with the program. Some government regulations are improving, such as in the EU, and others are not, such as in the US (though state-level regulations are getting much better). So it’s a mixed bag. It’s a work in progress. As citizens, we need to continue to demand better from our governments. We need better laws to protect our health and that of our kids. And as consumers we need to be supporting companies that are getting toxic chemicals out of their products, and shunning those companies that are not.
Do you think people who read your book actually make the changes required?
Definitely. The most gratifying thing over the past decade has been meeting our readers, right around the world, who have told us that “your book opened my eyes and now I live my life differently.” How great is that? We hope this new edition of the book spreads the message even further. It’s a complicated, troubling, topic. But we’ve tried to make the book as readable and hopeful as possible. Ultimately, it’s very optimistic. And a roadmap to a better life.
For more information visit slowdeathbyrubberduck.org. If you’re in Toronto, visit Ben McNally Books on Wednesday February 13, 2019 for the official book launch!