The Environmental Working Group
(EWG) is an
that 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
) 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
DC in the United States.
A sister organization, the EWG Action Fund, is the lobbying arm
) of the organization and was founded
Issue areas and projects
EWG works on three main policy or issue areas: toxic chemicals
and human health; farming and
public lands and natural
. 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 commerce in the United States,
also with little or no data to support their safety. EWG is working
to pass the Kid-Safe Chemical Act which would requires that
industrial chemicals be safe for infants, kids and other vulnerable
52% of EWG's resources go to toxic chemicals and human health
Toxic chemicals and human health
EWG has created a cosmetics safety database 
which indexes and scores products based on their ingredients.
Guide to Pesticides in Produce  lists 44 fruits and vegetables based
on the number of pesticides they were found to contain according to
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
. Their work has extended to a variety of
other chemicals, including bisphenol A
, flame retardants
in treated wood.
EWG publishes a database of agricultural subsidies and their
. The EWG Action Fund advocates for
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.
The organization investigates and publishes information regarding
oil and gas drilling and mining
may pose a threat to human health and the environment.
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 2007, EWG updated Skin Deep with a report on sunscreen
toxicity. The report states that 83% of 911 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.
Industry representatives call these claims "highly inaccurate."
Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) general council 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
Johnson (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
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
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
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
Benzene in soft drinks
In 2006 EWG sent a letter to the [FDA] 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 1996-2001
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
is available on GuideStar
of March 2008, EWG reports 30 staff members 
its president Ken Cook earning $192K per year in 2006 
Most (78%) of the funding comes from foundations, and a partial
list of 25 major funders is available on the organization's website
. 18% 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 IRS Commissioner Charles
Rossotti, 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
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. Its goal is not protecting the
environment. Its goal is power--political power."