Book Excerpt: The Non-Toxic Avenger by Deanna Duke

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 Duke shares with others her efforts to live free of toxic chemicals. Earlier this month, Deanna answered several of my questions regarding her transformation from a trusting consumer to the Non-Toxic Avenger.

Today as part of The Non-Toxic Avenger's Blog Book Tour I'm posting an excerpt from Duke's book (reprinted with the author's permission) in which she discusses using some expensive technology to identify toxic materials in her children's toys.


The moment of truth: XRF analyzer
When it came time to test some of our household products for heavy metals, Erika Schreder at Washington Toxics Coalition helped me out yet again. She was the one who initially counseled me about where to find body burden testing and which tests would be accessible to me. This time around she saved my skin by offering up the use of the Coalition’s XRF analyzer gun. Because these machines are expensive (generally around $30,000), buying one wasn’t exactly practical and renting one was costly. And also, I wanted to make sure I was using an XRF analyzer that would give a scientifically significant analysis. Cheaper ones exist on the market, but the results wouldn’t have been as definitive. In any case, in early February we managed to find a time that worked for both of us and I trooped down to their offices with a large bag of common household items to test out.

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers are widely used by government regulators and product manufacturers to test for hazardous materials in consumer products without destroying the sample being analyzed. They can test for chemical elements like chlorine, lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, tin and antimony. They can also tell you if a product is made out of PVC, which came in handy with the stuff I brought in.

After scaring me with some results they had just gotten regarding the amount of formaldehyde in crib sheets, infant clothes and pretty much all textiles that aren’t organic, we got down to business. Erika had her intern, Rachel, join us to show her how to use the analyzer which meant that I got to learn alongside as well. After Erika explained the safety hazards of shooting x-rays at people and calibrated the gun, we were ready to begin.

Rachel had brought with her two sets of Lego toys — one from 1979 and one from 1984. The significance of this was that Lego changed the materials of their plastic toys between these dates. Modern-day Lego toys are generally fine, although the clear plastic pieces are made from polycarbonate and, most likely, contain BPA. So, it is essential that I make sure the kids aren’t sucking on those particular pieces.In the 1979 set, the red Lego brick measured at over 7,000 ppm (parts per million) cadmium. In contrast, the 1984 red (and yellow) bricks found no cadmium detected. Cadmium, which is a known carcinogen, can hinder brain development, similar to lead. Even though our kids play with recently manufactured Lego, I mention this because we have been offered sets of Lego from yesteryear that somebody or other’s grandparent had been storing in their basement. Usually we refuse them because of the mildew and high ick factor of these long-lost treasures, but now there’s more reason to be concerned about plastic toys made in the 1970s. What’s the significance of 7,000 ppm cadmium? While there are no federal limits of cadmium in children’s toys (yet), 7,000 ppm is extremely high. For comparison, the European toy standard is 75 ppm. In other words, really, anything about 100 ppm is high — 7,000 ppm is insanely high.


Doesn't that just make you want to run out and buy a $30,000 XRF Analyzer? Since my mom just brought me some of my old Lego sets on a recent visit, this passage was of particular interest to me. The Non-Toxic Avenger is full of these in-depth looks at the toxins in our everyday products, as well as the author's search for acceptable alternatives. 

I'm looking forward to finishing The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You and posting my own book review soon. In the meantime, check out the book reviews, interviews, excerpts, and guest posts by Duke that are all part of The Non-Toxic Avenger's Blog Book Tour.  


  1. I am so poking forward to reading her book as well! Just bought my e-book version today! :) And yes it makes me want to go out and buy the super fancy contraption!

  2. That's so scary. No wonder so many kids have health and behaviour challenges these days. makes me want to throw all the plastic toys out. I have thought about going plastic free but i realised plastic is everywhere - it seems so daunting. I've been meaning to read Slow Death by Rubber Duck and I think I should get into it and also get a copy of Deanna's book


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