Environmental Working Group

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Environmental Working Group
Environmental Working Group logo.png
Founded 1992
Type 501(c)(3)
Focus Environmentalism
  • Washington, D.C.
Website ewg.org

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American environmental organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability. EWG is a non-profit organization (501(c)(3)) whose mission, according to their website, is "to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment."[1]

Founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles, EWG is headquartered in Washington, D.C. in the United States. A sister organization, the EWG Action Fund, is the lobbying arm (501(c)(4)) of the organization and was founded in 2002.[1]

The EWG publishes a "Dirty Dozen" list of foods with the highest pesticide residue, and recommends that consumers look for organically produced varieties of these products; the annual release of this list attracts widespread media coverage, and is thought to have a significant effect on the produce choices of many Americans. Critics of the list have suggested that it significantly overstates the risk to consumers of the listed items, and that the methodology employed in constructing the list "lacks scientific credibility".[2]

Issue areas and projects[edit]

EWG works on three main policy or issue areas: toxic chemicals and human health; farming and agricultural subsidies; and public lands and natural resources. EWG's largest focus is reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).[when?] When the act passed it declared safe some 62,000 chemicals already on the market, even though there were little or no data to support this policy. Since that time another 20,000 chemicals have been put into commercial circulation in the US, also with little or no data to support their safety. EWG is working to pass the Kid-Safe Chemical Act which requires that industrial chemicals be safe for infants, kids and other vulnerable groups.

Toxic chemicals and human health[edit]

EWG has created a cosmetics safety database[3] which indexes and scores products based on their ingredients. Their Guide to Pesticides in Produce[4] lists 44 fruits and vegetables based on the number of pesticides that they were found to contain according to United States Department of Agriculture data. A series of studies testing for the presence of chemicals in people's bodies is known as body burden. The organization has also constructed a national database of tap water testing results from public water utilities.[5][6] Their work has extended to a variety of other chemicals, including bisphenol A, perchlorate, mercury, flame retardants, and arsenic in treated wood.

Agricultural policy[edit]

EWG publishes a database of agricultural subsidies and their recipients.[7] The EWG Action Fund advocates for farm bill reform in the form of decreased disaster payments and subsidies for commodity crops, and increased funding for nutrition programs, conservation, specialty crops (i.e. fruits and vegetables), and organic agriculture.

Natural resources[edit]

The organization investigates and publishes information regarding oil and gas drilling and mining projects that may pose a threat to human health and the environment.[8]

Current projects[edit]

Cell phone radiation report[edit]

EWG launched a cell phone radiation report in September 2009 that stated while the long-term effects of cell phone radiation are still being studied, there is sufficient research that shows higher risk for brain and salivary gland tumors among heavy cell phone users. EWG encouraged consumers to look up their cell phone's radiation level, and to wear a headset when talking on the phone to limit their exposure.[9] In August 2013, EWG released a web page ("Cell Phone Radiation Damages Sperm, Studies Show") which reviews and tabulates studies showing relationships between mobile phone use and low sperm count and sperm quality.[10]

Skin Deep[edit]

Skin Deep is a cosmetics safety database which pairs ingredients in over 79,000 products against 50 toxicity and regulatory databases. The database is intended as a resource for consumers, who can search by ingredient or product when choosing personal care products.

In June 2009, EWG updated Skin Deep with a report on chemicals in sunscreen, lip balm and SPF lotions. The report states that 3 out of 5 sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns. The report identifies only 17% of the products on the market as both safe and effective, blocking both UVA and UVB radiation, remaining stable in sunlight, and containing few if any ingredients with significant known or suspected health hazards.[11][12] Oxybenzone is among the list that blocks both forms of radiation but has been deemed unsafe by the EWG due to controversy over its potential estrogenic and anti-androgenic effects.[13][14]

In its fourth annual "Sunscreen Guide", issued in May 2010, Environmental Working Group gives generally low marks to currently available sunscreen products. EWG researchers recommend only 39 out of 500 sunscreens available at the time.[15]

Industry representatives call these claims "highly inaccurate." Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) general counsel Farah Ahmed stated "It is very clear to me that they have a very low level of understanding of the way sunscreens work and the way they are regulated by the FDA and tested by the industry." She expressed further concern saying "I would hate to think that there are parents out there not using sunscreen on their kids because of a report like this that is not based on real science." Representatives from Schering-Plough (Coppertone), Johnson & Johnson (Neutrogena), and Sun Pharmaceuticals Corp. (Banana Boat) also reiterated their products' safety and efficacy.[16]

2007 Farm Bill[edit]

EWG operates the farm subsidy database, an online searchable database of recipients of taxpayer funded agriculture subsidy payments. The information is obtained directly from the United States Department of Agriculture via Freedom of Information Act requests.

In the 2007 Farm Bill, EWG is advocating for:

  • Cutting wasteful spending to profitable large farm operations, absentee landlords, ‘hobby’ farmers.
  • Increased support for organic agriculture, the fastest growing sector of the agriculture industry. In August 2007, EWG president Ken Cook delivered a petition of 30,000 names gathered online to Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI).
  • Increasing funding for nutrition.
  • Increasing funding for conservation.

During the fall 2007 debate over the farm bill EWG produced computer generated Google maps of cities across the country identifying the number of federal farm subsidy checks sent to that area. Acting-Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner used the maps during speeches and with the media as he advocated for fundamental reforms to the farm subsidy programs.[citation needed]

Who owns the West?[edit]

EWG has used computer mapping tools[17] to demonstrate the surge in mining claims near the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and other national parks.[18] The House of Representatives passed the first update of the nation’s hardrock mining law since 1872 in 2007. The bill, which bans mining claims around national parks and wilderness and imposes the first-ever royalties on minerals taken from public lands, awaits action in the Senate.[19] EWG staff testified before both the House and Senate during consideration of mining reform.[20]

Involvement in reprimand of John Stossel by ABC[edit]

A February 2000 story about organic vegetables on 20/20 included a comment by John Stossel that ABC News tests had shown that neither organic nor conventional produce samples contained any pesticide residue, and that organic food was more likely to be contaminated by E. coli bacteria. The Environmental Working Group took exception to his report, mainly questioning his statements about bacteria, but also found that the produce had never been tested for pesticides. EWG communicated this to Stossel but the story was rebroadcast months later not only with the allegedly inaccurate statement uncorrected, but with a postscript in which Stossel reiterated his error. After the New York Times took note of the error, ABC News suspended the producer of the segment for a month and reprimanded Stossel, who issued an apology over the incident, saying that he had thought the tests had been conducted as reported, but that he had been wrong. He asserted, however, that the gist of his report had been accurate.[21][22][23][24][25]

Benzene in soft drinks[edit]

In 2006 EWG sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration contending that the agency knew about the presence of benzene in soft drinks and suppressed the information from the public.[26] EWG described the finding of benzene in soft drinks as a "clear health threat." A second letter in April 2006 [27] reported that 80% of diet sodas tested from 1996 to 2001 in FDA's Total Diet Study[28] had benzene levels above the 5 ppb, including one at 55ppb and a regular cola at 138 ppb.

Finances and funding[edit]

For Fiscal Year ending December 2006, EWG raised nearly $3.6 million and spent $3.2 million.[29] Over 84 cents out of every dollar go toward EWG's actual programs.[29] As of March 2008, EWG reports 30 staff members[30] with its president Ken Cook earning $192K per year in 2006.[29]

Most of the funding comes from foundations, and a partial list of major funders is available on the organization's website.[31] Another large portion of the budget comes from individuals, with the rest stemming from interest, small sales, and consulting for other organizations.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "About the Environmental Working Group". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  2. ^ Winter, Carl K., and Josh M. Katz (2011). "Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels". Journal of Toxicology, 2011:589674. 2011-05-15. Accessed 2014-06-26.
  3. ^ "Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Reviews". Cosmeticsdatabase.com. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  4. ^ http://foodnews.org
  5. ^ November 2009. "EWG's Drinking Water Quality Analysis and Tap Water Database | Environmental Working Group". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  6. ^ Mosko, Sarah. "Drinker Beware". E Magazine. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  7. ^ "EWG || Farm Subsidy Database". Farm.ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  8. ^ "Natural Resources: Mining | Environmental Working Group". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  9. ^ September 2009. "Limit Your Exposure to Cell Phone Radiation Report". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  10. ^ http://www.ewg.org/cell-phone-radiation-damages-sperm-studies-find
  11. ^ "2009 Sunscreen Guide". EWG. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  12. ^ Miller, Michelle (2007-08-07). "Sunscreen: Don't Get Burned - Couric & Co". Cbsnews.com. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  13. ^ Centers for Disease Control. CDC: Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical. Environmental Working Group. EWG, 25 Mar. 2008. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.
  14. ^ Ma R, et al. UV filters with antagonistic action at androgen receptors in the MDA-kb2 cell transcriptional-activation assay. Toxicol Sci 2003; 74: 43–50.
  15. ^ Report: Only 8 Percent of Sunscreens Recommended accessed 25 May 2010
  16. ^ [1] WebMD article "Advocacy Group Says Many Popular Sunscreens Offer Inadequate Sun Protection"
  17. ^ "EWG, US Mining Database". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  18. ^ January 2008. "Report: Grand Canyon Threatened by Approval of Uranium Mining Activities | Environmental Working Group". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  19. ^ Mulkern, Anne C. (2008-03-18). "136 Years Later, Mine Law May Get Update". Denver Post. 
  20. ^ September 2007 (2007-09-27). "Statement of Dusty Horwitt, JD at Oversight Hearing on Hardrock Mining on Federal Land | Environmental Working Group". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  21. ^ Rutenberg, Jim (2000-07-31). "Report on Organic Foods Is Challenged". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  22. ^ Stossel, John (2000-08-11). "20/20: Stossel Apology for Organic Food Report". ABC News. Retrieved 2007-09-26. 
  23. ^ Rutenberg, Jim; Barringer, Felicity (2000-08-14). "MEDIA; Apology Highlights ABC Reporter's Contrarian Image". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-05. 
  24. ^ McElroy, Wendy (2000-08-15). "Blaspheming Organic Food: The Persecution of John Stossel". LewRockwell.com. Retrieved 2007-09-26. 
  25. ^ "Give Me a Fake: Stossel Under Fire". Environmental Working Group. 2000-09-06. Retrieved 2007-09-26. 
  26. ^ EWG Letter to the FDA Re: Benzene, February 28, 2006, [2].
  27. ^ FDA Data Undercut Public Safety Assurances by Top Agency Official, April 4th, 2006 [3]
  28. ^ Total Diet Study, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Created June 1991, Updated July 2008, available at: [4].
  29. ^ a b c "Charity Navigator Rating - Environmental Working Group". Charitynavigator.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  30. ^ "EWG Staff | Environmental Working Group". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  31. ^ "About Our Funding | Environmental Working Group". Ewg.org. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 

External links[edit]