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New Pollution: Why I Hate Air Fresheners and Rubber Ducks


I’ve started holding my breath when walking into public restrooms, but not for the obvious reason. No, it's not the shit I'm afraid of. It's the air freshener.

Let me explain.

A few months ago I read a book called Slow Death by Rubber Duck. In it, the authors asked the question, “Do toxins that leach out of commonplace items in our homes and workplace impact our health?”

The short answer: Yes. Like, in a very bad way.

The authors did a four-day experiment where they exposed themselves to ordinary levels of phthalates, PCBs, and parabens — nasty chemicals found in everything from shower curtains, non-stick pans, deodorants, shampoos, and plastic containers — and discovered they easily make their way into our bodies.

What’s the problem with that? Well, most of these toxins are endocrine disruptors and estrogen mimics, which means they can negatively affect testosterone levels and lower sperm counts.

Not squirming in your seat yet? Here, maybe this snippet from Wikipedia can help:

“These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Specifically, they are known to cause learning disorders, sever attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations in the body, sexual development problems, feminizing of males or masculine effects on females.”

So yeah. They’re kind of a problem.

After reading the book (and wondering if my plastic Kindle was leaching PCBs into my fingertips) I made a list of all the things I could change in my daily life to reduce my exposure. It was one hell of a list. In fact, living in a bubble would be easier. Still, I decided to try.

So I started using natural shampoos, conditioners, soap, shaving cream, and deodorant. I stopped wearing cologne. I changed my sheets and most of my jeans, t-shirts, boxers, and socks to 100% organic cotton clothing. I began using natural cleaning products and laundry detergent. I stopped using the microwave. I opened windows to let some fresh air in instead of using spray or plug-in air fresheners. And I started holding my breath when walking into public restrooms, which, I assume, makes the person who’s exiting the bathroom very self-conscious.

It’s been like this for the past three months, and I feel more comfortable with the things I touch and ingest on a daily basis. The only thing is, I have no clue if I’m actually safer.

Unlike the authors, I didn’t do any blood work or measure my hormones. In fact, the only real noticeable effect — other than my elevated mood and clean microwave —  is that I consistently have small sweat stains under the arms of my organic t-shirts.

(Marketing idea for natural deodorants: “This product will make you smell like a white collar hippie.”)

But I feel like it’s helping. The placebo effect is powerful, which is why some people can gain muscle with a “miracle” supplement that’s pure sugar, and why others can cure their insomnia or lessen their depression with rice pills.

Sometimes we only have to believe something will work to get benefit out of it. And maybe that’s enough. I’m not naive enough to know I can shield myself from every foreign chemical that wants to make its way into my body. But I sure as hell can reduce the amount.

The way I figure, if I’m already eating organic food, drinking lots of water, and working out regularly, why not take one more step to make life better?

If you want to try the same experiment, here are three things you can do right now to limit your exposure to hormone mimicking toxins.

3 Things You Can Do Right Now To Limit Your Exposure to Hormone Mimicking Toxins

1. Get rid of your vinyl shower curtain, air fresheners, and non-stick pans.

Chemicals called phthalates, which make plastic things soft and rubbery (like rubber ducks), mimic human hormones. They’re found in shower curtains, air fresheners, and body care products. PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals) found in non-stick cookware are linked to cancer.

I have a basic fabric shower curtain, and recently switched to stainless steel cookware.

2. Switch to natural skin and hair products.

The authors of the book found their levels of phthalates increased by as much as 22 times after they used common, brand name personal care products.  Since most countries don’t have to list “phthalates” on their list of ingredients, most opt for the name “fragrance.” (Look at the ingredients on the back of your shampoo or shaving cream. If “fragrance” is listed, it probably contains phthalates.)

Products I use instead:

Herban Cowboy deodorant (I actually like this, even though it’s not an antiperspirant)
Everyman Jack face wash and shaving cream
Method body wash
Griffin Remedy shampoo and conditioner

3. Stop microwaving stuff in plastic.

From the Slow Death by Rubber Duck website:

Polycarbonate plastic containers use bisphenol A (BPA) which mimics estrogen, and has been linked to a host of health problems from breast cancer to diabetes. The authors’ levels of BPA increased 7.5 times after eating canned foods out of a microwavable, polycarbonate plastic container. Don’t use any polycarbonate plastic containers, including baby bottles, re-usable sports bottles, or microwaveable containers. BPA also lines canned food, so choose fresh or frozen food when you can. And never microwave your food in plastic.

Other things to check out:

Slow Death by Rubber Duck (Book)
The Disappearing Male (Video)
The Lost Boys of Aamjiwnaang (Article from Men's Health magazine)