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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)).

Environmental Working Group
Environmental Working Group logo.png
Founded1992 (27 years ago) (1992)
  • Washington, D.C., USA

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 has been heavily criticized, as has its funding by the organic lobby,[2][3][4][5] and its campaigns labelled "alarmist" by some critics.[6]

They also publish recommendations regarding products consumers may use to protect themselves, such as water filters.



Chemicals and human healthEdit

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.[7][better source needed]

Dirty DozenEdit

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.[8]

EWG's Shopper's Guide is based on laboratory tests done by the Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program or PDP[9], and the Food and Drug Administration. Most data come from the annual tests conducted by USDA researchers.

The list that appears on their web site often is published or linked to by many other health-conscious sites and authors. Critics of the 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".[10]

The list continues to be criticized as scare tactics and a 2011 study showed that all of the items on the list have safe levels of chemical residue or none at all.[11][10]

A 2011 analysis of the USDA's PDP data[12] by Steve Savage found that 99.33% of the detectable residues were below the EPA tolerance and fully 1/2 of the samples were more than 100 times below.[13]


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.[14]

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.[15][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.[16][medical citation needed]

Industry representatives called the 2008 sunscreen report inaccurate.[14] Personal Care Products Council general counsel Farah Ahmed said, "It is very clear to me that they [the EWG] 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." She expressed further concern, "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 Sun Pharmaceuticals Corp. (Banana Boat) also reiterated the safety and efficacy of their products.[17]

This database has been criticized as having questionable validity and reliability, synthesis of information, and the classification of the compound polyparaben, which some say does not exist.[18]

Commenting on the 2010 sunscreen report, Dr. 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 ABCEdit

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 projectsEdit

The EWG issues various product safety warnings. In 2004, the EWG raised concern over the approval by the Environmental Protection Agency of the herbicide under the trade name Enlist Duo, claiming that schools within the vicinity of farm fields may have children exposed to the herbicide. 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 fundingEdit

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]


  1. ^ "About the Environmental Working Group". Retrieved 2011-03-30.
  2. ^ Hank Campbell (6 March 2018). "Environmental Working Group Abandons Independent Pretense And Puts Another Industry Executive On Its Board". American Council on Science and Health. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  3. ^ "Environmental Working Group, Gary Hirshberg And Organic Activists - All The Influence Money Can Buy". 2014-08-27. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  4. ^ "My food paranoia wake-up call: The EWG wants us to be afraid of the food we feed our kids -- here's why I refuse". 2016-02-07. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  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. ^ Mosko, Sarah. "Drinker Beware". E Magazine. Archived from the original on 2016-01-10. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  8. ^ Scipioni, Jade (April 12, 2016). "Strawberries are Now the Most Contaminated Produce". FOXBusiness.
  9. ^ "Pesticide Data Program | Agricultural Marketing Service".
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "How Dirty Are Your Fruits and Veggies?". Center for Accountability in Science. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  12. ^ "PDP Databases and Annual Summaries". USDA. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  13. ^ Savage, S. "How Wrong Is The Latest "Dirty Dozen List?"". Biology Fortified. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  14. ^ a b Boyles, Salynn (2 July 2008). "Many Sunscreens Ineffective, Group Says". WebMD. CBS News. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  15. ^ Miller, Michelle (2007-08-07). "Sunscreen: Don't Get Burned - Couric & Co". Retrieved 2011-03-30.[better source needed]
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ WebMD article "Advocacy Group Says Many Popular Sunscreens Offer Inadequate Sun Protection"
  18. ^ Romanowski, P. "Why the EWG Skin Deep Database is Still a Dubious Source". Chemists Corner. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  19. ^ "EWG Sunscreen Report Misleading, Skin Expert Says (Go Ahead, Slather It On)". The Huffington Post. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  20. ^ Rutenberg, Jim (2000-07-31). "Report on Organic Foods Is Challenged". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-01.
  21. ^ Stossel, John (2000-08-11). "20/20: Stossel Apology for Organic Food Report". ABC News. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  22. ^ Rutenberg, Jim; Barringer, Felicity (2000-08-14). "MEDIA; Apology Highlights ABC Reporter's Contrarian Image". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-05.
  23. ^ McWilliams, James. "How the Environmental Working Group Sells Its Message Short". Pacific Standard.
  24. ^ "EWG 2015 Annual Report" (PDF). 2015-12-31. p. 12. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  25. ^ a b c "Charity Navigator Rating - Environmental Working Group". Retrieved 2011-03-30.

External linksEdit