Just a few days of exposure to harmful chemicals in our everyday food and toiletry items can have dramatic effects. A new Canadian book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health, reports how coauthors Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence (ED) and Bruce Lourie, ED's chairman of the board, abstained from toxic chemicals and then loaded up on them to test the effects on their bodies.
Smith ate canned foods heated by microwave exclusively for two days—the levels of hormone-disrupting BPA in his body increased 7.5 times as a result. When Smith used scented bath products and room air fresheners for two days, the level of phthalates in his body, chemicals linked to reproductive abnormalities, increased 22 times. After removing fish from his diet for a month, Lourie ate tuna sandwiches, tuna sushi and tuna steak for lunch and dinner over two days. The levels of mercury in his blood increased 2.5 times.
While the sudden increase in body toxicity over such short periods were alarming, the authors write that there is a positive message. "Anybody can reduce their levels and their children's levels of these and other chemicals in a similarly quick fashion simply by making different purchasing choices at the supermarket," they write. But, they say, it is impossible to avoid the exposure to many of these harmful chemicals entirely—they are simply too widespread. They write: "The sources of contamination are so numerous that no precaution taken by an individual will work completely."