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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an Environmental organization which specializes in environmental research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, Public lands, and corporate accountability. EWG is a Non-profit organization (501(c)) whose mission, according to their website, is "to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment." Their funding is from "private foundations, individuals and select corporations." EWG was founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles, and is headquartered in Washington DC in the United States.

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

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. 52% of EWG's resources go to toxic chemicals and human health .

Toxic chemicals and human health

EWG has created a cosmetics safety database [1] which indexes and scores products based on their ingredients. Their Guide to Pesticides in Produce [2] lists 44 fruits and vegetables based on the number of pesticides they were found to contain according to USDA data. A series of studies testing for the presence of chemicals in people's bodies is known as Body burden[3]. The organization has also constructed a national database of tap water testing results from public water utilities [4]. Their work has extended to a variety of other chemicals, including Bisphenol A, Perchlorate, Mercury (element), flame retardants, and Arsenic in treated wood.

Agricultural policy

EWG publishes a database of agricultural subsidies and their recipients [5]. 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.[6]

Current Projects

Skin Deep

Skin Deep[7] is a cosmetics safety database which pairs ingredients in over 27,000 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 of 2007, EWG updated Skin Deep with a report on sunscreen toxicity. The investigation revealed that 83% of 911 sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns. Only 17% of the products on the market are 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.

2007 Farm Bill

EWG operates the farm subsidy database[8], 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 of 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[9] 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 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.

Critiques and Controversies

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. They communicated this to Stossel but the story was rebroadcast months later with not only the inaccurate statement uncorrected, but with a postscript in which Stossel reiterated his error. Then, 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.

Finances and Funding

For Fiscal Year Ending December 2006, EWG raised nearly $3.6 million and spent $3.2 million [10]. Over 84 cents out of every dollar go towards EWG's actual programs [11]. EWG's IRS Form 990 is available on GuideStar. As of March 2008, EWG reports 30 staff members [12] with its president Ken Cook earning $192K per year in 2006 [13].

Most (78%) of the funding comes from foundations, and a partial list of 25 major funders is available on the organization's website [14]. 18% of the budget comes from individuals, with the rest stemming from interest, small sales, and consulting for other organizations.


See also

  • Deb Callahan

External links

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