Environmental Working Group

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Environmental Working Group
Environmental Working Group logo.png
Founded1992 (28 years ago) (1992)
  • Washington, D.C., USA

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 the EWG reports and statements have been criticized, as has its funding by the organic lobby.[2][3][4][5] Its warnings have been labeled "alarmist", "scaremongering" and "misleading".[6][7][8]

Despite the questionable status of its work, EWG has been influential.[9]


Chemicals and human health[edit]

EWG has created a cosmetics database which indexes and scores products based on EWG's views of their ingredients. Their Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists 44 fruits and vegetables based on the number of pesticides that were found to contain according to United States Department of Agriculture data. The organization has also constructed a database of tap water testing results from public water utilities.[10][better source needed]

Dirty Dozen[edit]

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.

In 2016, strawberries headed the list.[11]

In 2019, strawberries still headed the list, followed by #2 Spinach, #3 Kale, #4 Nectarines, #5 Apples, #6 Grapes, #7 Peaches, #8 Cherries, #9 Pears, #10 Tomatoes, #11 Celery, & #12 Potatoes.[12]

The EWG bases its list, which is not peer-reviewed, on annual reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program. [12]

More than 99% of produce samples tested for that report had pesticide residues acceptable to the EPA, but EWG believes the federal standards are insufficient. 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]

In 2009, EWG updated Skin Deep with a report on chemicals in sunscreen, lip balm, and SPF lotions. The report states that three out of five 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.[18][medical citation needed] Oxybenzone is on the list and blocks both forms of radiation, but has been deemed unsafe by the EWG due to controversy over its potential estrogenic and anti-androgenic effects.[19][medical citation needed]

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".[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]

Other projects[edit]

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.[24]

"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."[25]

According to Forbes contributor Kavin Senapathy, the EWG "frightens consumers about chemicals and their safety, cloaking fear mongering in a clever disguise of caring and empowerment. Criticism of the organization, whose rhetoric is dirtier than any fruit or veggie on its list, boils down to two main points: 1) The methodologies EWG uses in analysis on food, cosmetics, children’s products and more are fundamentally flawed and 2) The EWG is largely funded by the very companies its shopping recommendations help. Take again, for example, the annual Dirty Dozen list. A 2011 paper published in the Journal of Toxicology concludes that 'consumer exposures to the ten most frequently detected pesticides on EWG's Dirty Dozen commodity list are at negligible levels'[26] and 'the EWG methodology is insufficient to allow any meaningful rankings among commodities.'[26] (Note: Their methodology hasn’t really changed in the last five years.)"[4]

Finances and funding[edit]

For the fiscal year ending December 2015, EWG raised nearly $13.7 million and spent $12.5 million.[27][28] Over 84 cents out of every dollar go toward EWG's program expenses.[28] President Ken Cook earned $289,022 in reportable income in 2015.[28]


  1. ^ "About the Environmental Working Group". EWG.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30.
  2. ^ Malkin, Michelle. "Behind the environmental working group". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  3. ^ "A New Study Found Weedkiller in 28 Cereals and Other Kids' Foods. Why Parents Shouldn't Freak Out Just Yet". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  4. ^ a b Senapathy, Kavin (12 July 2016). "Would You Rather Buy Organic Or Poison Your Family? EWG Wants You To Pick One". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  5. ^ Dunning, Brian (May 15, 2018). "Skeptoid #623: Environmental Working Group and the Dirty Dozen". Skeptoid. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  6. ^ Diluting the 'chromium-6 in water' panic, The Guardian, 26 Dec. 2010
  7. ^ Comment, F. P. (2011-06-14). "Junk Science Week: Lipstick, apples & sperm counts". Financial Post. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  8. ^ "Soaking in Chemical Stews". The American Spectator. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  9. ^ "Bloomberg - Are you a robot?". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  10. ^ Mosko, Sarah. "Drinker Beware". E Magazine. Archived from the original on 2016-01-10. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  11. ^ Scipioni, Jade (April 12, 2016). "Strawberries are Now the Most Contaminated Produce". FOXBusiness.
  12. ^ a b Nickle, Ashley (March 20, 2019). "2019 "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15" lists released, EWG's Dirty Dozen 2019". Produce Retailer.
  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. doi:10.1155/2011/589674. PMC 3135239. PMID 21776262.
  14. ^ "How Dirty Are Your Fruits and Veggies?". Center for Accountability in Science. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  15. ^ "PDP Databases and Annual Summaries". USDA. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  16. ^ Savage, S. "How Wrong Is The Latest "Dirty Dozen List?"". Biology Fortified. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  17. ^ a b Boyles, Salynn (2 July 2008). "Many Sunscreens Ineffective, Group Says". WebMD. CBS News. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  18. ^ Miller, Michelle (2007-08-07). "Sunscreen: Don't Get Burned - Couric & Co". Cbsnews.com. Retrieved 2011-03-30.[better source needed]
  19. ^ 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. PMID 12730620 doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfg102
  20. ^ "EWG Sunscreen Report Misleading, Skin Expert Says (Go Ahead, Slather It On)". The Huffington Post. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  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. ^ McWilliams, James. "How the Environmental Working Group Sells Its Message Short". Pacific Standard.
  25. ^ Savage, Steven (10 April 2018). "The Truth About Pesticide Residues On Produce: All Encouraging, Some Inconvenient". Forbes. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  26. ^ a b Winter, Carl K.; Katz, Josh M. (15 May 2011), "Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels", Journal of Toxicology, retrieved 19 October 2019
  27. ^ "EWG 2015 Annual Report" (PDF). ewg.org. 2015-12-31. p. 12. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  28. ^ a b c "Charity Navigator Rating - Environmental Working Group". Charitynavigator.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30.

External links[edit]