Environmental Working Group

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Environmental Working Group
Founded1993 (31 years ago) (1993)
FoundersKen Cook, Richard Wiles[1]

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)).


In 1993, the Environmental Working Group was founded by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.[1] EWG is headquartered in Washington, D.C..[2] Its lobbying organization, the EWG Action Fund (a 501(c)(4) organization) was founded in 2002.[3]

EWG partners with companies to certify their products.[4] Its reports are influential with the public, but it has been criticized for exaggerating the risks of chemicals.[4][5][6]


According to its co-founder Ken Cook, the EWG advocates for organic food and farming.[7] EWG receives funding from organic food manufacturers, and that funding source and its product safety warnings of purported health hazards have drawn criticism,[6][8][9][10][11] the warnings being labeled "alarmist", "scaremongering" and "misleading."[12][13][14] Brian Dunning of Skeptoid describes the EWG's activities as "a political lobbying group for the organic industry."[6]

According to a 2009 survey of 937 members of the Society of Toxicology conducted by George Mason University, 79% of respondents thought EWG overstated the risks of chemicals, while only 3% thought it underestimated them and 18% thought they were accurate.[5][15] Quackwatch has included EWG in its list of "questionable organisations,"[16] calling it as one of "[t]he key groups that have wrong things to say about cosmetic products".[17]

Environmental historian James McWilliams has described EWG warnings as fearmongering and misleading, and writes that there is little evidence to support its claims:[18] "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."[19]

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." His main criticisms are its use of "fundamentally flawed" methodologies for evaluating food, cosmetics, children’s products, and more, and that it is "largely funded by organic companies" that its shopping recommendations benefit.[9]

Dirty Dozen[edit]

The EWG promotes an annual list ranking pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables called the "Dirty Dozen", though it does not give readers context on what amounts regulatory agencies consider safe. The list cautions consumers to avoid conventional produce and promotes organic foods.[20][21]

Scientists have stated that the list significantly overstates the risk to consumers of the listed items and that the methodology employed in constructing it "lacks scientific credibility" and "may be intentionally misleading."[20][22] A 2011 study showed that the items on the list had safe levels of chemical residue or none at all.[23][20] A 2011 analysis of the USDA's PDP data[24] by Steve Savage found that 99.33% of the detectable residues were below EPA tolerance and half of the samples contained less than a hundredth those levels.[25]

PFAS regulation advocacy[edit]

Since the early 2000s, EWG has been advocating for increasing regulations on the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).[26][27][28] EWG has collaborated with the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI) at Northeastern University to publish a map showing detections of PFAS in water samples across the USA.[26][27]


In July 2008, the EWG 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.[29] It called on the FDA to require that manufacturers provide more detailed information about the level of sun protection provided for both UVA and UVB radiation.[29] Representatives of the sunscreen industry called the 2008 sunscreen report inaccurate.[29] Commenting on the 2010 sunscreen report, Zoe Draelos, a consulting professor at Duke University and Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology,[30] said the group had made unfair "sweeping generalizations" about newer chemicals (such as oxybenzone) in its report and that its recommended products were based only on "very old technology" such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.[31]


In 2004, the EWG authored a report titled "Overloaded? New science, new insights about mercury and autism in children," promoting an unfounded link between mercury preservatives in vaccines and autism,[6] a purported link that had elicited much controversy, especially among anti-vaccination activists,[32] but which no evidence supported.[33]

Genetically modified food[edit]

The EWG has made statements opposing the scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified (GM) food alleging its long-term safety has not been proven.[34][35] The group started a campaign supported by funding from the organic food industry to require labeling of GM food and promote organic food.[36][37]

Tap water[edit]

In 2005, from data compiled by "state environment and health agencies",[38][39] the EWG released its Tap Water Database,[40] which contains data collected from approximately 48,500 water utilities across the US.[41][42][43] The city of Everett, Washington, described by the report as exceeding public health guidelines for drinking water, has criticized the report, contending that the EWG selectively chose the guidelines used to assess water quality.[44]

Finances and funding[edit]

For the fiscal year ending December 2021, ProPublica's Nonprofit Explorer Form 990 archive and Charity Navigator each reported that EWG had raised some $16.1 million and spent some $12.6 million.[45][46] 84 cents out of every dollar EWG takes in go toward its program expenses.[46] President Ken Cook earned $317,423 in reportable income in 2021.[46]

Activist Facts reported, from ProPublica's Nonprofit Explorer[47] Form 990 archive,[45] for the fiscal year ending December 2017, that EWG had raised more than $10.4 million and spent more than $9.3 million.[2]


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  23. ^ "How Dirty Are Your Fruits and Veggies?". Center for Accountability in Science. April 10, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  24. ^ "PDP Databases and Annual Summaries". USDA. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
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  26. ^ a b Renfrew, Daniel; Pearson, Thomas W. (September 1, 2021). "The Social Life of the "Forever Chemical": PFAS Pollution Legacies and Toxic Events". Environment and Society. 12 (1): 146–163. doi:10.3167/ares.2021.120109. ISSN 2150-6779.
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  30. ^ Draelos, Zoe. "Meet Dr. Draelos". Zoe Diana Draelos, MD. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  31. ^ CafeMom (May 27, 2010). "EWG Sunscreen Report Misleading, Skin Expert Says (Go Ahead, Slather It On)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
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  38. ^ "Data Sources". mytapwater.org. Retrieved November 15, 2023. The short answer is that the United States government mandates that vast amounts of water data is made publicly available. MyTapWater.org downloads that data, warehouses it, and finally makes it available on this website.
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  43. ^ "EWG tap water database shows arsenic and chromium in all 50 states". Business Insider. 2019. Retrieved July 19, 2023.
  44. ^ "Everett statement on Environmental Working Group (EWG)". www.everettwa.gov. Retrieved July 19, 2023.
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  47. ^ Suozzo, Andrea; Glassford, Alec; Ngu, Ash; Roberts, Brandon (May 9, 2013). "Nonprofit Explorer". ProPublica. Retrieved November 15, 2023.

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