Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review -- The Non-Toxic Avenger

Among the blogs I follow is one from Seattle called The Crunchy Chicken. Written by Deanna Duke, a wife and mother of two, the blog covers sustainable and non-toxic lifestyle choices. Just before I picked up the blog, New Society Publishers released Deanna's book, The Non-Toxic Avenger. I promptly bought it, read it, and have redesigned some aspects of our life based on her information and experiences.

The Non-Toxic Avenger is the record of a project that grew from Deanna's experience of her son's diagnosis with Aspergers and her husband's with myeloma in the same week. Realising that such diagnoses were becoming more common led to her exploration of the insidious toxins that form part of our daily lives – the fire retardents in clothing and upholstery, the PVC in computer cables, the ingredients in personal care products, the BPA residue from thermal receipts – and their impact on our health and well being. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens, others can cause birth defects or disrupt hormones. Others seem more benign – until you realise that by engaging your immune system in their processing, they are preventing it from addressing the viruses and germs that it should be fighting to keep you in optimal health.

Long ago, after reading Cleaning Yourself To Death, I made parts of my lifestyle as non-toxic as I thought that I could – in terms of cleaning materials for us and the house. I banished all commercial cleaning materials, replacing them with vinegar and soda for the house and natural soaps and shampoos for us. Almost immediately I noticed that my sensitivity to fragrance developed to the point that passing the supermarket aisles of synthetic cleaners became an uncomfortable experience.

The Non-Toxic Avenger advances the process. Deanna starts the book by discussing the environmental toxins that our bodies must deal with every day: the plasticising pthalates found in childrens toys, medical equipment, paints, cosmetics, cling film, and plastic food wrappers; the chemicals and heavy metals found in non-stick cookware; the coatings added to fabrics that make them flame resistant, waterproof, or wrinkle-free. She designed a project whereby she tested her body's burden of chemicals before embarking on a four-month ridding of all toxins from her environment and a rigourous body detox, and again after. Her experience and results make interesting reading for anyone concerned with the potential health effects of everyday materials.

Mixing some hard science with a conversational tone and plenty of anecdotes, Deanna has written a book that is accessible to all readers. I had a private whinge about some of the Americanisms in the text, but... the book was written by an American, largely for an American readership: European regulations being much more stringent, and the tone needs to stay conversational – or readers might go cross-eyed from information overload.

I was a little disappointed that she left out information on several areas, but she couldn't cover everything and subjects that did not relate so directly to the project got less, if any print. Feminine 'hygeine' is something that she barely mentioned except to cover the quantity of related waste dumped into landfills, but of concern to me is the materials and chemicals that we are exposed to by our use of tampons, pads, wipes, and fragrances. I long ago reduced my exposure by switching to washable cotton pads, but that's too crunchy for many women who may never give a thought to the products they use. Deanna's children were past the nappy stage by the time she wrote The Non-Toxic Avenger, so she doesn't enter the 'washable vs disposable nappy wars'. The dyes, bleaches, and super-absorbent gels used in disposables have caused allergic reactions in and toxic shock in children, and may be linked to male infertility.  They have been known to harm pets (on ingestion?), and the waste and environmental implications are enormous. Disposable wipes, even unfragranced ones, are loaded with chemical nasties, yet babies' bottoms encounter them daily, then are often slathered with creams or powdered. I would like to see feminine and baby-care products given the same kind of scrutiny that Deanna gave Christmas lights, Hallowe'en costumes, and candles – anyone out there want to step up to the plate?

I highly recommed the book. Toward the end, Deanna mentions the practices that she started during the project that she has continued: organic food as far as possible, non-stick banned from the premises, the use of plants for interior air filtering, a new hoover, and all 100% clean body products. These are all practices that anyone can institute in a move toward a healthier life-style. The author also includes several recipes (for deodorant, hair lightener, mole repellent, acne wash, and soap) to help readers make the transition.

For my part, I tossed all the old non-stick cookware I had and resurrected some cast-iron and glass. I replaced the old cookie sheets and the small frying pan with 'Green non-stick' from Teflon (PFOA, lead, and cadmium-free) and a Green Pan. I pay more attention to packaging, and no longer buy tomatoes in tins, choosing glass instead, and avoid handling or retaining shop receipts as much as possible. As clothing, appliances or furniture wear out, I will be more attentive to the materials in their replacements. As an eye-opener for some topics, and a refresher course for others, The Non-Toxic Avenger was a great buy.

1 comment:

  1. YES! Thank you! You're spot on here. I've been trying to get people in my life to believe that what they surround themselves with is what they become, and I'm not talking about their personality. If more people could open their eyes to this there would be a huge shift in what we are willing to tolerate, and what we wont. At some point the manufacturers would have to start listening.