The Environmental Working Group

In my last post, I mentioned the fact that the integrative health movement dovetails naturally in many respects with the environmental protection movement. In this post, I’d like to highlight a relatively new–and extraordinarily effective–environmental protection organization.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles. It is a team of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers that pores over government data, legal documents, scientific studies, and its own laboratory tests to expose public health threats and propose solutions. It is the mission of EWG to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.

EWG specializes in providing useful resources to consumers while simultaneously advocating for national policy change. The organization tackles many topics; including health/toxins, farming, natural resources, energy choices, the chemical index, and health tips (among others).

Organizational Goals

1. To protect the most vulnerable segments of the human population–children, babies, and infants in the womb–from health problems attributed to a wide array of toxic contaminants.

2. To replace federal policies, including government subsidies that damage the environment and natural resources, with policies that invest in conservation and sustainable development.

EWG Action Fund

The EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that relies on individuals, corporations and associations to fund advocacy for policies that protect people from toxic chemicals and that shift government subsidies toward conservation.

EWG Achievements

1. Toxic Chemical Reform – EWG has successfully lobbied for comprehensive reform to the handling of toxic chemicals, with special consideration given to chemical exposure and effects on groups with the greatest vulnerabilities, particularly children.

2. Energy Policy – EWG analyses include Crying Wolf: Climate Change Will Cost Farmers Far More Than a Climate Bill; Ethanol’s Federal Subsidy Grab Leaves Little for Solar, Wind and Geothermal Energy; and America Needs a True Renewable Energy Policy. These have substantively changed the national conversation about corn ethanol by underscoring the false promises of conventional biofuels as a solution for climate change and energy independence.

3. Banning BPA – In response to EWG’s policy papers, lawmakers in Minnesota, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington State, Suffolk County, New York, and Chicago have voted to ban BPA in food packaging for babies and young children.

4. Highlighting cell phone radiation risks – EWG’s first-ever Guide to Cell Phone Radiation, released September 9, 2009, went viral through the blogosphere in a matter of hours, logging more than 1.5 million visitors in September alone. This set a EWG record for sign-ups and commentary. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) embraced major aspects of EWG’s recommendations on cell phone safety.

5. Shedding light on secret chemicals – EWG’s ground-breaking January 2010 report, Off the Books, documented how a loophole in the toxins control law has permitted industry to keep secret more than 17,000 chemicals.

6. Pushing for more effective sunscreens – EWG’s three-year campaign for more effective sunscreens was affirmed by 70 percent of sunscreens containing strong UVA filters offered for the 2009 beach season, compared to just 29 percent in 2008.

7. Banning phthalates – Phthalates are plastic plasticizers used in children’s toys and childcare items. Thanks in part to EWG’s efforts, a federal ban of phthalates went into effect February 10, 2009.

8. Phasing out Deca – Under pressure from EWG and other advocates, EPA and three chemical companies agreed to end production, importation and use of Decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca), a neurotoxic chemical and possible carcinogen, by the end of 2013.

9. Protecting ground water from gas-drilling chemicals – The January 2010 EWG report Drilling Around the Law, by senior mining analyst Dusty Horwitt, disclosed that companies drilling for natural gas and oil with a process called hydraulic fracturing were injecting toxic petroleum distillates into thousands of wells, skirting federal law and threatening drinking water supplies from New York to Wyoming. The report sparked Congressional investigations.

10. Saving the Grand Canyon – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar reversed the Bush administration decision allowing new mining claims on one million acres around Grand Canyon National Park. As a result, a two-year moratorium on further drilling on these federally protected lands was imposed.

11. Fighting for safer tap water – EWG partnered with the New York Times to assemble and analyze water-testing data from 48,000 U.S. communities. This resulted in an eye-opening Times series called Toxic Waters.

EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides™

EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides™ aims to reduce your exposure to pesticides as much as possible. This guide helps you determine which fruits and vegetables contains the most pesticide residues. You can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and by eating the least contaminated produce. EWG offers two mobile phone apps that provide you easy access to this information; these are Dirty Dozen™ and Clean Fifteen™.

Dirty Dozen™ includes a plus category to highlight two crops–green beans and leafy greens—that do not meet the Dirty Dozen™ criteria but which are commonly contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides. These insecticides are toxic to the nervous system and have been largely removed from agriculture over the past decade. Still, there is no government ban on them; they still show up in some food crops.

Clean Fifteen™ lists fifteen fruits and vegetables that are found to have lesser or lower pesticide content.

Christian

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