Environmental Working Group

Environmental Working Group
Environmental Working Group logo.png
Founded 1992
Location Washington, D.C.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]

Annually, the EWG publishes its “Dirty_Dozen” list of foods with the highest pesticide residue. The EWG recommends that consumers look for organically produced varieties of these products. The EWG also publishes the “Clean 15” list of foods with the least pesticide residue.

Issue areas and projects

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

52 percent of EWG’s resources go to toxic chemicals and human health.[2]
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.

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Agricultural policy

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

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

 Cell phone radiation report

EWG launched a cell phone radiation report in September 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]

Skin Deep

Skin Deep is a cosmetics safety database which pairs ingredients in over 41,000 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.[10][11]
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.[12]
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.” He 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 Banana Boat also reiterated their products’ safety and efficacy.[13]

 2007 Farm Bill

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?

EWG has used computer mapping tools[14] to demonstrate the surge in mining claims near the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and other national parks.[15] 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.[16] EWG staff testified before both the House and Senate during consideration of mining reform.[17]

 Involvement in reprimand of John Stossel by ABC

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[which?] had never been tested for pesticides. EWG communicated this to Stossel but the story was rebroadcast months later not only with the 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.[18][19][20][21][22]

 Benzene in soft drinks

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.[23] EWG described the finding of benzene in soft drinks as a “clear health threat.” A second letter in April 2006 [24] reported that 80% of diet sodas tested from 1996 to 2001 in FDA’s Total Diet Study[25] had benzene levels above the 5 ppb, including one at 55ppb and a regular cola at 138 ppb.

 Finances and funding

For Fiscal Year ending December 2006, EWG raised nearly $3.6 million and spent $3.2 million.[26] Over 84 cents out of every dollar go towards EWG’s actual programs.[26] EWG’s IRS Form 990 is available on GuideStar[clarification needed]. As of March 2008, EWG reports 30 staff members[27] with its president Ken Cook earning $192K per year in 2006.[26]
Most (78 percent) of the funding comes from foundations, and a partial list of 25 major funders is available on the organization’s website.[28] Eighteen percent of the budget comes from individuals, with the rest stemming from interest, small sales, and consulting for other organizations.

 Challenge to 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status

On February 8, 2002, the Bellevue, WA based Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise filed a complaint with the IRS, claiming that the EWG’s “excessive lobbying and politicking” activities are “clearly illegal and should (at a minimum) result in revocation of the organization’s tax-exempt status.”
The complaint charges that the group hid its political-lobbying expenditures, failed to register as a lobbyist in California, submitted false or misleading reports with the IRS and acted as a political-action organization in violation of Section 501(c)(3) rules. Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, stated that “The Environmental Working Group is not what it seems. It’s goal is not protecting the environment. It’s goal is power–political power.”[29][30]

Focus Environmentalism
Website ewg.org

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