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Book review


For those of us who think we know about the toxic threats in our environment, it’s time to read anew and think again.

The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
by Deanna Duke
New Society Publishers, 2011, 288 pages, $17.95
ISBN: 978-0-86571-692-6

For those of us who think we know about the toxic threats in our environment, it’s time to read anew and think again.

Until recently my own head was more comfortable buried in the sand than buried in a book about the toxicity of everyday objects around us, but The Non-Toxic Avenger by environmental writer Deanna Duke provides a turning point.

Above all, this is a personal book. Duke offered herself as guinea pig to examine the toxic body burden of a middle-class American lifestyle on families like yours and mine. Spurred by serious (and inexplicable) illnesses in her husband and son, Duke underwent a series of before-and-after tests to discover whether or not the avoidance of hidden toxic substances might be a causal factor in more modern-day health issues than previously realized.

The author is first a mother and also a Seattle-based environmental blogger with a sense of humour. This means The Non-Toxic Avenger reads like a diary complete with reference notes and index. Duke is a meticulous chronicler for lay readers: one self-defined section of “sloggish reading” is condensed to just a few pages. Such a high readability factor promises great inroads for reluctant readers of this most important and relevant subject.

Anyone with children at home will be curious to learn about the potential toxic threat in toys, school supplies, Halloween costumes, sunscreen, and more. The book also makes us pause to consider the safety versus toxicity levels of such things as Gore-Tex, fleece jackets, hot showers, jewellery, cookware, deodorant, dental floss, detergent—essentially everything around us.

Take paper money and store receipts for example. (Or better yet, don’t take them!) Know anyone with a tattoo made from chemical inks? What about that BPA lining in canned tomatoes? And your favourite yoga mat … is made of TPE or PVC?

It’s impossible to read Duke’s non-toxic adventure and keep one’s head buried in the sand. I predict this book will alter the views of every reader to some degree, as it did mine. It makes us consider and reconsider life’s little details and how we choose to interact with everything—from toothpaste to pyjamas.

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Raise a glass and say cheers to not-so-hard drinks

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD