Environmental Working Group

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Environmental Working Group
Founded1992 (31 years ago) (1992)
  • Washington, D.C., US

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American activist group that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability. EWG is a nonprofit organization (501(c)(3)).

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

The accuracy of EWG reports and statements have been criticized, as has its funding by the organic food industry.[2][3][4] Its warnings have been labeled "alarmist", "scaremongering" and "misleading".[5][6][7] Despite the criticism, EWG has been influential.[8]


The EWG issues various product safety warnings. Environmental historian James McWilliams has described these warnings as fear mongering and misleading, and wrote that there is little evidence to support the claims made by the EWG.[9]

"The transparency of the USDA’s program in providing the detailed data is good because it reveals how insignificant these residues are from a health perspective. Unfortunately, the EWG misuses that transparency in a manipulative way to drive their fear-based, organic marketing agenda."[10]

According to Kavin Senapathy of Science Moms, the EWG "frightens consumers about chemicals and their safety, cloaking fear mongering in a clever disguise of caring and empowerment." Senapathy included two main areas of criticism for the organization including: methodologies used by the EWG for "food, cosmetics, children’s products and more are fundamentally flawed", and the EWG is largely funded by organic companies and does not assess or discuss pesticides from organic farming.[3]

Quackwatch describes EWG as one of "[t]he key groups that have wrong things to say about cosmetic products".[11]

Dirty Dozen[edit]

EWG's "Dirty Dozen" list describes food additives that have been associated with adverse health impacts, including some additives that have been restricted in certain countries.[12]

Critics of the Dirty Dozen 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".[13]

A 2011 study showed that the items on the list had safe levels of chemical residue or none at all.[14][13] A 2011 analysis of the USDA's PDP data[15] by Steve Savage found that 99.33% of the detectable residues were below the EPA tolerance and half of the samples were more than 100 times below.[16]


In July 2008, the EWG first published an analysis of over 900 sunscreens. The report concluded that only 15% of the sunscreens met the group's criteria for safety and effectiveness.[17] Representatives of the sunscreen industry called the 2008 sunscreen report inaccurate.[17] Commenting on the 2010 sunscreen report, Zoe Draelos, of Duke University and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology, said the group made unfair "sweeping generalizations" in its report and their recommendations were based on "very old technology".[18]

Finances and funding[edit]

For the fiscal year ending December 2015, EWG raised nearly $13.7 million and spent $12.5 million.[19][20] Over 84 cents out of every dollar go toward EWG's program expenses.[20] President Ken Cook earned $289,022 in reportable income in 2015.[20]


  1. ^ "About the Environmental Working Group". EWG.org. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  2. ^ Meyer, David (October 25, 2018). "A New Study Found Weedkiller in 28 Cereals and Other Kids' Foods. Why Parents Shouldn't Freak Out Just Yet". Fortune. Archived from the original on October 25, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  3. ^ a b Senapathy, Kavin (July 12, 2016). "Would You Rather Buy Organic Or Poison Your Family? EWG Wants You To Pick One". Forbes. US. Archived from the original on July 13, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  4. ^ Dunning, Brian (May 15, 2018). "Environmental Working Group and the Dirty Dozen". Skeptoid. Archived from the original on December 18, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  5. ^ Miller, Henry (December 26, 2010). "Diluting the 'chromium-6 in water' panic". The Guardian. Archived from the original on September 20, 2013. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  6. ^ Corcoran, Terence (June 13, 2011). "Junk Science Week: Lipstick, apples & sperm counts". Financial Post. Archived from the original on January 9, 2021. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  7. ^ Hogberg, David (July 25, 2005). "Soaking in Chemical Stews". The American Spectator. Archived from the original on August 20, 2019. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  8. ^ Kary, Tiffany (December 12, 2018). "Revenge of the Chemistry Nerds: P&G Teams With Health Watchdog". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on May 29, 2019. Retrieved March 29, 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  9. ^ McWilliams, James (September 3, 2014). "How the Environmental Working Group Sells Its Message Short". Pacific Standard. Archived from the original on April 5, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  10. ^ Savage, Steven (April 10, 2018). "The Truth About Pesticide Residues On Produce: All Encouraging, Some Inconvenient". Forbes. Retrieved October 19, 2019.
  11. ^ "Scientific Activism for Cosmetic Chemists (and Others)". Quackwatch. May 17, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  12. ^ "EWG's Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives". EWG. November 12, 2014.
  13. ^ a b Winter, C. K.; Katz, J. M. (2011). "Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels". Journal of Toxicology. 2011: 589674. doi:10.1155/2011/589674. PMC 3135239. PMID 21776262.
  14. ^ "How Dirty Are Your Fruits and Veggies?". Center for Accountability in Science. April 10, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ "PDP Databases and Annual Summaries". USDA. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  16. ^ Savage, S. (May 20, 2013). "How Wrong Is The Latest "Dirty Dozen List?"". Biology Fortified. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  17. ^ a b Boyles, Salynn (July 2, 2008). "Many Sunscreens Ineffective, Group Says". WebMD. CBS News. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
  18. ^ CafeMom (May 27, 2010). "EWG Sunscreen Report Misleading, Skin Expert Says (Go Ahead, Slather It On)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  19. ^ "EWG 2015 Annual Report" (PDF). ewg.org. December 31, 2015. p. 12. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  20. ^ a b c "Charity Navigator Rating – Environmental Working Group". Charitynavigator.org. Retrieved March 30, 2011.

External links[edit]