Formally incorporated in 1993, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit environmental research and advocacy organization that actually began receiving foundation money in 1989 through the IRS tax exemption of the Center for Resource Economics/Island Press (CRE/IP), a small Washington, DC-based environmental book publisher. From 1989 to 1993, EWG President and co-founder Kenneth Cook was Vice President for Policy of CRE/IP. He operated EWG, before it had been incorporated, with $5 million in grants from 17 foundations; those grants were variously directed to EWG, EWG/Island Press, and Tides Foundation/EWG. Cook remains the President of EWG to this day.
EWG states that its “team of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers pores over government data, legal documents, scientific studies and … laboratory tests to expose threats to … the environment” and to public health. According to EWG, its research frequently “shames and shakes up polluters and their lobbyists; … rattles politicians and shapes policy; … [and] persuades bureaucracies to rethink science and strengthen regulation.” A Capital Research Center report asserts that EWG’s goal is “to undermine public confidence in products and technologies that contain man-made chemicals.”
EWG rarely if ever conducts peer-reviewed studies of the type that are published in scientific periodicals. Instead, as Tom and Gretchen Randall note in the December 2003 edition of Foundation Watch, its studies “are associative in nature, rather than causal.” “Causal studies which are used in clinical medical research,” they explain, “demonstrate the degree to which a particular pathogen or other agent affects people. Associative studies simply indicate a correlation. If activists were to use associative research and the precautionary principle together, they might well prohibit the use of beds, since most people who die were lying in them.”
EWG’s issue areas include the following:
Agriculture: EWG is a leading proponent of the virtues of organic foods. Its 1999 report How ‘Bout Them Apples claimed that children who ingested apples with legal residues of methyl parathion could suffer dizziness, nausea, or other illness. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refuted the claim, and EWG could not substantiate its position. In 1996, EWG produced its landmark Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The EPA quickly denounced the Guide as junk science, and the Guide’s mastermind, EWG’s Richard Wiles, conceded to investigative reporter Matt Labash that EWG did not have a single scientist or doctor on its staff. The organic food giant, Stonyfield Farms, has given EWG a grant to re-release the Guide.
Corporate Institutional Accountability: (a) Black Farmers: “A new investigation by EWG and the National Black Farmers Association reveals that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) withheld nearly three out of every four dollars in a $2.3 billion landmark civil rights settlement with black farmers”; (b) Chemical Industry Archives: This campaign casts doubt on chemical companies’ claims “that their products are rigorously tested for health and safety, their facilities are safe for workers and nearby communities, and their industry is tightly regulated”; (c) Government Enforcement: This program “investigates how well the agencies charged with protecting our air, water and food are doing their jobs.” EWG claims that its investigations “have shown how regulators routinely let polluting industries off the hook.”
Public Lands: This program’s goal is to keep public land off-limits to mining for oil and gas.
Transportation: (a) Nuclear Waste Transport: “… the government would rather keep quiet about its plans to dump the nation’s nuclear waste in Nevada … [which] would be shipped by train or truck through dozens of states”; (b) Transportation Safety: “We are increasingly dependent on accident-prone cars and trucks that contribute to political instability, but we pay little attention to cheaper, safer, environmentally friendly alternatives like mass transit, bicycling, and walking.”
Toxics in Our Bodies: (a) BodyBurden: “In 2003, we tested the blood and urine of nine volunteers for 211 possible contaminants — and discovered 167 pollutants, including an average of 56 carcinogens in each person”; (b) Mercury and Autism: “New science … suggests that [autistic] children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of mercury and other toxic chemicals”; (c) Toxics and Children’s Health: “Beginning even before birth, children are at high risk of exposure to many different sources of chemicals that can impair normal growth and development: pesticides in produce, rocket fuel and other chemicals in mothers’ milk, lead, mercury, air pollution and many more.”
Toxics in Our Environment: (a) Air Pollution: “Childhood asthma rates are soaring in the U.S., and research shows a strong link to the toxic soot and gases that pollute our air”; (b) Arsenic in Treated Wood: “Pressure-treated wood, infused with arsenic to kill insects and prevent rot, … leaches from wooden playsets, decks, and other structures for years and sticks to children’s skin and clothing”; (c) Asbestos: “The asbestos problem … is a public health crisis — an epidemic that kills some 10,000 Americans and has yet to reach its peak”; (d) Cosmetics and Personal Care Products: “[O]ur research shows that the industry … has safety assessed just 11 percent of the 10,500 chemical ingredients used in personal care products”; (e) MTBE: This program contends that the gasoline additive MTBE endangers Americans’ drinking water supplies; (f) Phthalates: EWG has developed a searchable database that allows consumers to see if their personal care products contain phthalates, which EWG describes as “plasticizers linked to a variety of birth defects [which] are widely used in cosmetics and beauty products”; (g) Teflon, Stainmaster, Scotchgard: According to EWG, these contain “highly toxic, extraordinarily persistent chemicals that pervasively contaminate human blood and wildlife the world over, and never break down in the environment.”
Toxics in Our Food and Water: (a) Farmed Salmon: EWG’s tests “showed that farmed salmon are likely the most PCB-contaminated protein source in the U.S. food supply”; (b) Flouride in Drinking Water: “[F]luoride may present unreasonable health risks, particularly among children, at levels routinely added to tap water in American cities”; (c) Mercury in Seafood: “[O]ne of every six pregnant women in the U.S. will give birth to a baby whose blood is contaminated with mercury at levels above the federal safety standard. Emitted from coal-fired power plants and other sources, the pollutant builds up in some types of seafood, including canned tuna”; (d) Pesticides: This campaign claims that exposures to food pesticides may be dangerous to infants and children; (e) EWG claims that perchlorate, the explosive ingredient in solid rocket fuel, contaminates water supplies, agricultural products, and even human milk.
EWG’s Board of Directors includes former Weatherman member David Fenton, who worked with the Natural Resources Defense Council to manufacture the 1989 Alar pesticide scare; Fenton has also done public relations work for Cindy Sheehan‘s Gold Star Families for Peace, and Win Without War.
Other key players at EWG include: Board Member Drummond Pike, founder of the Tides Foundation; Media Operations Director Michael Casey, who served as the press secretary for the 1992 Clinton–Gore Presidential campaign; Chairman Kelsey Wirth, the daughter of former Colorado Senator and current United Nations Foundation President Tim Wirth; and Bill Walker, a Greenpeace veteran who heads EWG’s Oakland office.
Major financial contributors to EWG include, among others, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Bauman Family Foundation; the Beldon Fund; the Blue Moon Fund; the Bullitt Foundation; the Columbia Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the Educational Foundation of America; the Energy Foundation; the Florence and John Schumann Foundation; the Ford Foundation; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Heinz Family Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Joyce Foundation; the Mertz-Gilmore Foundation; the Nathan Cummings Foundation; the New-Land Foundation; Pew Charitable Trusts; the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the Rockefeller Family Fund; the Streisand Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; the Turner Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.