Environmental Working Group
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American environmental organization
Environmental organization
An environmental organization is an organization that seeks to protect, analyze or monitor the environment against misuse or degradation or lobby for these goals....

 that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals
Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can damage a living or non-living organisms. Toxicity can refer to the effect on a whole organism, such as an animal, bacterium, or plant, as well as the effect on a substructure of the organism, such as a cell or an organ , such as the liver...

, agricultural subsidies
Agricultural subsidy
An agricultural subsidy is a governmental subsidy paid to farmers and agribusinesses to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities, and influence the cost and supply of such commodities...

, public land
Public land
In all modern states, some land is held by central or local governments. This is called public land. The system of tenure of public land, and the terminology used, varies between countries...

s, and corporate accountability
Corporate crime
In criminology, corporate crime refers to crimes committed either by a corporation , or by individuals acting on behalf of a corporation or other business entity...

. EWG is a non-profit organization
Non-profit organization
Nonprofit organization is neither a legal nor technical definition but generally refers to an organization that uses surplus revenues to achieve its goals, rather than distributing them as profit or dividends...

 (501(c)(3)) whose mission, according to their website, is "to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment."

Founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles, EWG is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. A sister organization, the EWG Action Fund, is the lobbying arm (501(c)(4)) of the organization and was founded in 2002.

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
Natural Resources
Natural Resources is a soul album released by Motown girl group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas in 1970 on the Gordy label. The album is significant for the Vietnam War ballad "I Should Be Proud" and the slow jam, "Love Guess Who"...

. EWG's largest focus is reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 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.

EWG has created a cosmetics safety database which indexes and scores products based on their ingredients. Their Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists 44 fruits and vegetables based on the number of pesticides that they were found to contain according to United States Department of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
The United States Department of Agriculture is the United States federal executive department responsible for developing and executing U.S. federal government policy on farming, agriculture, and food...

 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. Their work has extended to a variety of other chemicals, including bisphenol A
Bisphenol A
Bisphenol A is an organic compound with two phenol functional groups. It is used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, along with other applications....

, perchlorate
Perchlorates are the salts derived from perchloric acid . They occur both naturally and through manufacturing. They have been used as a medicine for more than 50 years to treat thyroid gland disorders. They are used extensively within the pyrotechnics industry, and ammonium perchlorate is also a...

, mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

, flame retardants, and arsenic
Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As, atomic number 33 and relative atomic mass 74.92. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in conjunction with sulfur and metals, and also as a pure elemental crystal. It was first documented by Albertus Magnus in 1250.Arsenic is a metalloid...

 in treated wood.

Agricultural policy

EWG publishes a database of agricultural subsidies and their recipients. The EWG Action Fund advocates for farm bill
U.S. farm bill
In the United States, the farm bill is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. The comprehensive omnibus bill is passed every 5 years or so by the United States Congress and deals with both agriculture and all other affairs under the purview of the United States...

 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
Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, from an ore body, vein or seam. The term also includes the removal of soil. Materials recovered by mining include base metals, precious metals, iron, uranium, coal, diamonds, limestone, oil shale, rock...

 projects that may pose a threat to human health and the environment.

Cell phone radiation report

EWG launched a cell phone radiation report in September 2009 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.

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.

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.

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
Schering-Plough Corporation was a United States-based pharmaceutical company. It was founded in 1851 by Ernst Christian Friedrich Schering as Schering AG in Germany. In 1971, the Schering Corporation merged with Plough to form Schering-Plough. On November 4, 2009 Merck & Co...

 (Coppertone), Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson is an American multinational pharmaceutical, medical devices and consumer packaged goods manufacturer founded in 1886. Its common stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the company is listed among the Fortune 500....

 (Neutrogena), and Banana Boat also reiterated their products' safety and efficacy.

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.

Who owns the West?

EWG has used computer mapping tools to demonstrate the surge in mining claims near the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and other national parks. The House of Representatives passed the first update of the nation’s hardrock mining law
General Mining Act of 1872
The General Mining Act of 1872 is a United States federal law that authorizes and governs prospecting and mining for economic minerals, such as gold, platinum, and silver, on federal public lands...

 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. EWG staff testified before both the House and Senate during consideration of mining reform.

Involvement in reprimand of John Stossel by ABC

A February 2000 story about organic vegetables on 20/20 included a comment by John Stossel
John Stossel
John F. Stossel is an American consumer reporter, investigative journalist, author and libertarian columnist. In October 2009 Stossel left his long time home on ABC News to join the Fox Business Channel and Fox News Channel, both owned and operated by News Corp...

 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 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.

Benzene in soft drinks

In 2006 EWG sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments...

 contending that the agency knew about the presence of benzene in soft drinks and suppressed the information from the public. EWG described the finding of benzene in soft drinks as a "clear health threat." A second letter in April 2006 reported that 80% of diet sodas tested from 1996 to 2001 in FDA's Total Diet Study 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. Over 84 cents out of every dollar go towards EWG's actual programs. EWG's IRS Form 990 is available on GuideStar
GuideStar USA, Inc. is an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. nonprofit companies. In 2010, their database contained over 5 million IRS Forms 990 filings on 1.9 million organizations.....

. As of March 2008, EWG reports 30 staff members with its president Ken Cook earning $192K per year in 2006.

Most (78 percent) of the funding comes from foundations, and a partial list of 25 major funders is available on the organization's website. 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 wrote a letter to 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."

See also

  • Deb Callahan
    Deb Callahan
    Deb Callahan is an American environmental and political leader. Currently she is the president of the Heinz Center, a Washington, DC, nonprofit institution dedicated to improving the scientific and economic foundation for environmental policy....

External links

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