Deanna Duke: Mom on a Mission

Deanna Duke, long-time environmentalist and parent of two, used to believe that products sold in stores were generally safe since the FDA said they were. Although she started to think otherwise after reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck, still she was satisfied to let other environmentalists focus on toxins in products while she concerned herself with reducing waste and energy use. Then in 2007 Deanna received a "Double Whammy": members of her family were diagnosed with autism and cancer. Deanna was forced to confront the reality that environmental toxins, including those her family was exposed to through the use of everyday supposedly safe products, most likely played a role in these conditions. She then undertook a mission to reduce her family's exposure to toxic chemicals.

Through her very successful blog The Crunchy Chicken and her recently published book The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You, Deanna shares with others her efforts to live free of toxic chemicals. Below, Deanna answers several of my questions regarding her transformation from a trusting consumer to the Non-Toxic Avenger.

Q&A with Author Deanna Duke

How did you become concerned about the impact of environmental toxins? 
When my son started having developmental problems and my husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, I started looking at the increase in rates for both of their conditions and realized that they couldn't be explained from genetics alone. There had to be some environmental element to it and the more I looked into it, the more it looked like environmental toxins played a heavy role.

When you first became interested in living a less toxic life, how did you avoid feeling overwhelmed and stay motivated?
I focused on changing a few things at a time, otherwise it would have been completely overwhelming. I started by overhauling things that were easier to change and easier to research, items like personal care products that had relatively easy to find alternatives. As I conquered each chemical group, I moved on to a new one. If I felt overwhelmed by something, I would just put it aside until I was ready to deal with it. I stayed motivated mostly because I knew that I would be getting follow-up blood testing to see how I was doing on reducing my exposure. So, that made it difficult to slip up!

What do you hope to accomplish through your blog and now your book? 
My hope is to educate people on the potential dangers of the toxins they are exposed to every day and do so in an approachable and humorous manner. I don't want people to feel overwhelmed by not only the effort to reduce exposure, but also by the science behind it.

What has your family’s attitude been towards your eco-friendly efforts? 
They have been mostly open to it. The biggest issues really revolve around food and, occasionally, other products. But, for the most part, they have been receptive and haven't minded the changes.

How do you share your concerns about toxins with others (in real life) without seeming crazy or overbearing? 
That's a very difficult line to walk. It's a hard topic to introduce without coming off as a conspiracy nutjob or as preachy. So, I generally frame my response with something like, "here's what we do or use" because we are trying to avoid (name your toxin here). Ultimately, it's all about balance. I recommend that people pick their battles and focus on things they are willing to change.

Is eco-friendly living affordable? 
It certainly can be. For those who think they need to completely overhaul all their potentially hazardous products, then that can be expensive. I usually suggest (except for things I feel need to be replaced right away) that, as items run low or wear out, replace them with eco-friendly alternatives.

What are your favorite resources for research about environmental toxins and for non- toxic alternatives to consumer products?
My favorites are, hands down, the Environmental Working Group, Healthy Child, Healthy World and Safer Chemicals for research and for beauty products I always consult the EWG cosmetic safety database.

What has been the most difficult change you have made? The most enjoyable? 
The most difficult change has been trying to eliminate Teflon and non-stick based chemicals because they are in everything from wrinkle-free, stain-resistant and water-resistant clothing to the lining of chip bags and candy/sports bars to tooth floss and beyond. The most enjoyable change was really in knowing that I no longer am exposing my skin to toxic chemicals, so overhauling all my personal care products has been the most satisfying.

What was the biggest surprise that came out of your research for your book? 
Really, the biggest surprise was how inescapable a lot of chemicals are, generally from toxins that persist in the environment (like pesticides and the like) to things like flame retardants, which are in more products than you'd expect.

How are you currently working on reducing your family’s and other families’ exposure to toxins? 
I'm hoping that by writing  The Non-Toxic Avenger and discussing it that more people become aware of not just what chemicals they are being exposed to and how to avoid them, but also how to encourage better laws to protect consumers from this chemical soup we are surrounded by.

Healthy Child Healthy World's Mom on a Mission campaign celebrates special and inspiring American parents who are dedicated to creating healthier and happier environments for children and families.  Do you know a Mom on a Mission? Nominate her HERE!

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1 comment:

  1. It certainly all seems overwhelming for someone just starting to find out about these things. I guess baby steps are the way to go?


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