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Environmental Working Group

Environmental Working Group

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]

Environmental Working Group


Chemicals and human health

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]

Dirty Dozen

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]

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".[12]

A 2011 study showed that the items on the list had safe levels of chemical residue or none at all.[13][12] A 2011 analysis of the USDA's PDP data[14] 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.[15]


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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

Representatives of the sunscreen industry called the 2008 sunscreen report inaccurate.[16]

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".[19]

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 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.[20][21][22]

Other projects

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.[23]

Finances and funding

For the fiscal year ending December 2015, EWG raised nearly $13.7 million and spent $12.5 million.[24][25] Over 84 cents out of every dollar go toward EWG's program expenses.[25] President Ken Cook earned $289,022 in reportable income in 2015.[25]


Citation Linkwww.ewg.org"About the Environmental Working Group". EWG.org. Retrieved 2011-03-30.
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Citation Linktownhall.comMalkin, Michelle. "Behind the environmental working group". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
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Citation Linkfortune.com"A New Study Found Weedkiller in 28 Cereals and Other Kids' Foods. Why Parents Shouldn't Freak Out Just Yet". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
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Citation Linkwww.forbes.comSenapathy, Kavin. "Would You Rather Buy Organic Or Poison Your Family? EWG Wants You To Pick One". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
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Citation Linkwww.theguardian.comDiluting the 'chromium-6 in water' panic, The Guardian, 26 Dec. 2010
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Citation Linkfinancialpost.comComment, F. P. (2011-06-14). "Junk Science Week: Lipstick, apples & sperm counts". Financial Post. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
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Citation Linkwww.foxbusiness.comScipioni, Jade (April 12, 2016). "Strawberries are Now the Most Contaminated Produce". FOXBusiness.
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Citation Link//www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21776262Winter, 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.
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Citation Linkwww.accountablescience.com"How Dirty Are Your Fruits and Veggies?". Center for Accountability in Science. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
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Citation Linkwww.ams.usda.gov"PDP Databases and Annual Summaries". USDA. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
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Citation Linkwww.biofortified.orgSavage, S. "How Wrong Is The Latest "Dirty Dozen List?"". Biology Fortified. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
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Citation Linkwww.huffingtonpost.com"EWG Sunscreen Report Misleading, Skin Expert Says (Go Ahead, Slather It On)". The Huffington Post. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
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Citation Linkwww.nytimes.comRutenberg, Jim (2000-07-31). "Report on Organic Foods Is Challenged". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-01.
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