EWG News and Analysis
The latest from EWG’s staff of experts >>
EWG News Roundup (5/11): Fluorinated Chemicals Taint Military Bases’ Water, Farm Bill Falls Short and More
In a recent report to the House Armed Services Committee, the military acknowledged and disclosed locations of military installations where tap water or groundwater, on or off base, is contaminated with highly toxic fluorinated chemicals. One big caveat with the report is the military withheld information on the concentration levels of the contamination, so it is unknown whether those levels exceed the threshold the Environmental Protection Agency deems “safe.”
Last week, the Department of Agriculture published its draft rule of how it plans to implement the groundbreaking 2016 disclosure law for foods with genetically modified ingredients, commonly called GMOs. EWG counted down the ways in which the USDA’s first crack is flawed.
As we march on to the upcoming vote on the Republican House farm bill, EWG analyzed how the proposed legislation falls short of both President Trump’s and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue’s goals. EWG also took a look at a controversial proposal in the current bill that could lead to increased pesticide exposures for children and farmworkers.
And finally, in a rare glimmer of good news out of the EPA, the agency indicated that it may follow through on a ban of the deadly paint stripping chemical methylene chloride. The ban was initially proposed by the Obama administration in early 2017. Since the proposal, at least four Americans have died of methylene chloride exposure.
For coverage on these developments and more, here’s some news you can use going into the weekend.
Hawaiian Ban of Oxybenzone and Octinoxate
The primary culprits are octinoxate and oxybenzone, which are in almost 65 percent of non-mineral sunscreens, according to the Environmental Working Group. The two ingredients are said to “cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms,” and when nearly 14,000 tons of sunscreen makes its way into the ocean and coral reefs, it adds up.
Recent tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found a total of 230 different pesticides among 70 percent of conventionally grown (read: non-organic) produce. Each year, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce so customers can figure out where to spend extra for organic and which fruits and veggies are safe to buy conventionally grown.
Per the New York Times, any particles smaller than 100 nanometers can be consumed by coral. (However, the term "non-nano" can be a bit misleading, says the Environmental Working Group, since technically all zinc oxide and titanium dioxide used in sunscreens are nanoparticles.)
The ban—which restricts the distribution but not the use of offending sunscreens—affects close to 80 percent of sun-protection products on the market, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit environmental advocacy and education organization.
But Ken Cook, president of NGO Environmental Working Group (EWG), said Hawaii’s ban could spur action from both the sunscreen industry and the FDA. "After decades of inadequate safety testing of current ingredients such as oxybenzone, the FDA is looking for safety data before approving new chemicals, but the industry has not yet stepped up to the plate," said Mr Cook. "Now consumers are forcing change."
In fact, one of the key ingredients in many sunscreens is actually harming ocean life, specifically coral. That ingredient is oxybenzone, a chemical found in 65 percent of non-mineral based sunscreens, according to a 2017 Environmental Working Group (EWG) survey.
The primary culprits are octinoxate and oxybenzone, which are in nearly 65 percent of non-mineral sunscreens, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Sport is top-rated by the Environmental Working Group and meets the EWG’s eco-standards for natural sunscreen. The dermatologist-recommended, hypoallergenic formula contains only high-quality, non-irritating, natural minerals to provide highly effective, broad-spectrum UVA and UVB skin protection. Free of fragrances and chemicals, it’s safe and effective for even the most sensitive skin types.
According to the Environmental Working Group, oxybenzone was added to nearly 65% of the non-mineral sunscreens accessed in the organisation’s 2017 Guide to Sunscreens.
A coalition of health advocates has sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for failing to ban seven artificial flavors that it claims are carcinogenic, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reports. The coalition — led by Earthjustice and including CSPI, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council and WE ACT for Environmental Justice — has asked an appeals court to force the FDA to decide whether it will ban the flavors, which have been used in a wide range of foods and beverages.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
If you play around with Google Earth, you can find several residences within a half-mile of the site. That’s not unusual—a recent analysis of satellite data by the Environmental Working Group found that around 160,000 North Carolinians, representing more than 60,000 households, live within a half-mile of a hog confinement or a manure pit.
Molly's Suds Laundry Powder The ingredients list on the label of this vegan laundry detergent is short and sweet: it consists of just five ingredients like sodium carbonate sourced from the Green River Basin in Wyoming and organic peppermint oil. Everything in this detergent is found in nature, with no dyes, fillers, optical brighteners, or known carcinogens, which helped it earn an A rating by the Environmental Working Group.
From babies to grown adults, wet wipes are used on skin, tables, and pretty much every possible surface. They may be convenient, but the Environmental Working Group points out that the wipes can contain a cocktail of chemicals. Some contain a common preservative called phenoxyethanol that has been linked to eczema and respiratory health problems. As an alternative, try these 15 chemical-free ways to clean your home.
An Environmental Working Group (EWG) report sought to identify how many personal care products contain Teflon or other PFASs. Teflon is perhaps best known for coating nonstick pans with a slippery surface, such that overeasy eggs slide off with just a flick of your wrist. Yet, this chemical is also found in other consumer goods, from stain-resistant and waterproof clothing to, as revealed by a recent Environmental Working Group (EWG) report, cosmetics and personal care products.
Additionally, the Environmental Working Group found that tons of American beauty and skincare products contained carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants — many of which are banned in Europe and Asia.
Skin Deep® Cosmetic Database
Check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (ewg.org) if you have concerns about any of the following products.
A peek at the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database, which ranks thousands of skin care products for safety, reveals that additional ingredients can be problematic, too. Cooling shampoos, masks, and lotions contain harmful fragrances, alcohol, retinyl palmitate, and parabens.
“They’ve put Ancestry.com in charge of our farm subsidy system in a way that’s going to expose the taxpayer to untold new costs,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, a liberal nonprofit.
The National Taxpayers Union joined a call hosted by the Environmental Working Group on Tuesday to complain that the new bill is worse.
CEI aligned with conservative groups, such as Heritage Action, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the National Taxpayers Union, along with an eclectic mix of other organizations, including the National Black Farmers Association, Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Working Group, to bring down the Farm Bill.
“We’re one step closer to having a national mandatory GMO disclosure system,” said Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber. “But, the draft rule leaves many fundamental questions unanswered, fails to provide solutions for consumers without smart phones or consumers with lousy cell service, and fails to provide clear rules that ensure that QR codes will consistently scan.”
“Farmers and biotechnology providers have done an unfathomably bad job of making a case for their new technology,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “Renaming it is not going to be enough. Consumers will resent being hoodwinked by trying to call something that is genetically engineered, bioengineered.“
“Using confusing new words or symbols will not help build consumer trust, but will sow more confusion and concern. Responsible companies that want to disclose genetically engineered ingredients in terms that consumers understand would be barred from doing so,” writes Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group in a blog post.
Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs with the Environmental Working Group, told FoodDive the publication of the rule represented "an important milestone.”
Nonstick Chemicals in Water
Last month, the latest update of an interactive map from EWG and Northeastern University detailed fluorinated chemical contamination at 94 military or industrial sites in 22 states, and in public water systems serving 16.1 million Americans in 33 states and Puerto Rico.
Sites with toxic fluorinated chemicals in tap water and at industrial and military sites are shown in this screenshot of an interactive map from the non-profit Environmental Working Group. You can see the possible extent in this map and report by the Environmental Working Group. One reason for the growing trend is that testing methods have gotten more sensitive and accurate.
Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
Organic produce may be better for your health, but it isn't always easy on your budget. If you can only afford a few organics, the Environmental Working Group puts together guidelines that can help you choose.
The Environmental Working Group has just put out its annual "Dirty Dozen" report, highlighting the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. Here they are, in reverse order. See EWG's full 2018 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce to learn more about how the group comes up with the yearly report.
Opt for organic whenever you can, especially for items on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, which are the items most likely to be contaminated with pesticides… but remember that doesn’t exempt you from washing before you dig in.
When purchasing celery at the grocery store, consider that this crop consistently lands on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of produce with the highest pesticide content; seek out organic when possible.
For people who want to start buying some organic foods, Karr and Goldstein recommended the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce and its Dirty Dozen list, which points out which produce is best to buy organically, due to high levels of synthetic pesticides in conventional food. Strawberries, spinach and nectarines top the list.
Strawberries top the list of what is called the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of 12 crops that contain the most residual chemicals. According to the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org), a third of all conventional strawberries tested contained 10 or more pesticides. Spinach is next on the list, followed by nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, sweet peppers and, making it a baker’s dozen, hot peppers.
Since then, thanks to the Environmental Working Group's annual report on pesticide levels in fruits and veggies, we've come to learn that there's little star power in that ranking, at least when it's applied to the produce we eat. The EWG makes it clear that there are measurably risky pesticide residue levels in our food supply, despite the fact that since 1993 (and before) the government has known how toxic they can be. And there are serious repercussions:
EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens
“Sunscreens commonly include ingredients that act as penetration enhancers and help the product adhere to the skin,” says David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group in DC. “As a result, many sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body and can be measured in blood, breast milk, and urine samples.” This is why experts believe we don’t need to ingest something for it to affect us internally; topicals can enter our systems, too.
"Tanning oils are simply a bad idea. They promote risky behavior, encouraging users to seek out intense sunshine that results in skin damage and increased risk of developing skin cancer," according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "Although some tanning oils contain sunscreen ingredients, the levels are always very low and offer little, if any, protection from the sun’s rays. Tanning oils are also associated with an increased danger of sunburn.
The Environmental Working Group has a list of 19 baby sunscreen products with top ratings, so your summer safety regimen won’t include any harsh chemicals.
Tap Water Database
The Environmental Working Group spent three years investigating America’s drinking water and the results were shocking. They found that roughly 85 percent of the population was using tap water laced with over 300 contaminants, many with unknown, long-term effects, and more than half of which aren’t even regulated by the EPA.
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, has been collecting data from tap water samples from around the country. They have records on Burnsville’s drinking water from 2010 to 2015. These tests are done by the city and reported to the Minnesota Department of Health. The results of these samples are disturbing.