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EWG’s News Roundup (10/20): Trouble in Farm Country, EPA Toxics Nominee Hopscotches Senate and More

Friday, October 20, 2017

EWG has long researched and recommended ways to improve drinking water quality in farm country. This week, using our new national Tap Water Database, we released our Trouble in Farm Country report, which details the problems rural communities face due to unchecked farm pollution.

Farmers who don’t take steps to stop fertilizer and manure run-off into drinking water sources are largely responsible for these issues of water contamination. Lawmakers who don’t require farmers who receive taxpayer-funded farm subsidies to adopt stronger conservation practices are also responsible.

News broke this week that President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office, Michael Dourson, has already begun working at the agency. He hasn’t yet been approved by the Senate’s environmental panel or the whole Senate.

“The only thing Michael Dourson should be doing inside EPA headquarters before he’s confirmed is visiting as a tourist,” EWG President Ken Cook said.​ “[EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt clearly sees the established role of Senate oversight on nominees as a bothersome technicality he can disregard at will. This is more proof of his contempt for transparency and the longstanding rules of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches.”

On the other side of the country, wildfires rage on in California, spelling horrible devastation and air quality nightmares for all in their path. EWG released a handful of simple tips to improve air quality in these terrible circumstances.

This week, we also reviewed a recent report by the United Nations World Food Programme that showcases the astronomical price of food in the developing world.

On top of all of that news, we celebrated a major victory in California, with Gov. Jerry Brown signing a sweeping cleaning product ingredient disclosure bill – a win for both consumer and worker rights.

For coverage on these stories and more, here’s some news you can use going into the weekend.

Trouble in Farm Country

Austin American-Statesman: Report: Texas water supplies in farm country pose cancer risks

The Environmental Working Group says drinking water in farm country is threatened by nitrates, chemicals found in manure and commercial fertilizers, and trihalomethanes, a chemical byproduct created when “utilities treat water with chlorine to remove algae, fecal bacteria and other farm pollutants.”

Billings Gazette: Montana farms' soil runoff and fertilizer use scrutinized in drinking water report

The Environmental Working Group rounded up tap water data for almost 50,000 United States utilities where nitrates and trohalomethanes are a problem. EWG is a nonprofit, federal policy watchdog that focuses on food, farming, and consumer safety and health. It’s known for its searchable farm subsidy database that lists payouts to individual U.S. farmers. Reprinted by Missoulian, NBC6 - KPVI and the Citizen Tribune.

Cleveland Plain-Dealer: Contaminants taint some NE Ohio water, but EPA says safe to drink

Potentially carcinogenic byproducts from improperly treated drinking water were found in three Northeast Ohio water systems in 2014-2015, according to a new report by an environmental research group.

FairWarning: Report Spotlights Nitrate Contamination in Drinking Water Across the U.S.

A new report from the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, indicates that more than 1,700 water districts across the U.S. recorded nitrate levels that averaged 5 ppm or more in 2014-2015. The vast majority — 1,683 of the water districts — were rural systems  serving no more than 25,000 people and generally located in farming areas where fertilizer and manure in cropland runoff can seep into the public water supply. Included in those rural districts were 118 systems that matched or exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 10 ppm. Reprinted by the Huffington Post.

Iowa Public Radio: Study Suggests Legal Nitrate Levels In Water Could Cause Cancer; Researcher Says It Isn’t Definitive

A new report suggests the Environmental Protection Agency should consider lowering the legal limit in drinking water for nitrates, a chemical often connected to fertilizer use. People who drink water with elevated, but not illegal, levels of nitrates could be at an increased risk of kidney, ovarian and bladder cancer, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group asserts. But a University of Iowa researcher who studies nitrate contamination says the connection to cancer is inconsistent and other chemicals may be involved. Reprinted by High Plains Public Radio, KUNC, NPR Illinois, NewsNet Nebraska, Tri-States Public Radio and Wichita Public Radio.

In These Times: How Much Nitrate Is in Rural America’s Water?

This week, the Environmental Working Group published Trouble in Farm Country—a report based on the database’s findings that focuses specifically on nitrate contamination in rural America.

CBS 11: KTHV: Tyson accused of causing widespread pollution in supply chain

A new report by the Environmental Working Group released on Oct. 17 underscores the group's claims. The findings show that areas surrounding or downstream from corn and soybean farmland have high levels of nitrate and other chemicals in drinking water. Farming practices are directly tied to the presence of these chemicals.

WXPR: Wisconsin Among Top Four States For Nitrate Contamination

Their spokesperson Wes Bleed says another association, The Environmental Working Group, has a report listing the places with the highest levels... ".....primarily in rural areas. That's no surprise to anyone who knows anything about nitrate. It can come from various sources, but among them are animal manure and fertilizer. So when you have the combination of those materials and other natural decomposition of organic matter, you can have elevated levels of nitrate....."

Self: Drinking water in some rural towns may be contaminated with a carcinogen.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Working Group released a report detailing the presence of nitrate in drinking water in farming communities in California, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kansas. Nitrate is found in fertilizer and can contaminate the ground water through runoff.

Arkansas Times: Environmental group finds agricultural chemicals in Arkansas drinking water

The Environmental Working Group released a report this week that asserts that the drinking water for about 200,000 Arkansans contains unsafe levels of chemicals related to industrial agriculture. A related effort by another environmental group, Mighty Earth, singles out Tyson Foods to do something about it. 

California Cleaning Product Right to Know Act

Record-Bee: Cleaning products labeling act becomes law

The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act is co-sponsored by public health and environmental health advocates Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Women’s Voices for the Earth.

CleanLink: California Enacts Cleaning Product Disclosure Law

As reported by Environmental Working Group, ingredient listings must be featured on the company websites by January 1, 2020. Updates to product labels are required by January 1, 2021.

California Lead Testing Bill

KQED: Gov. Brown Signs Into Law Key Health Bills, But Nixes Others

A report published last month by the Environmental Working Group showed that one-third of infants who were at risk for lead poisoning had not been tested. Reprinted by California Healthline.

EPA and Trump

Reuters: Green groups criticise Trump pick for White House environmental policy post

Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said on Friday that assertion indicated that White would facilitate “the rampant looting of environmental and public health protection policies,” according to a news release. The Environmental Working Group describes itself as “a non-profit, non-partisan organisation dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.” Reprinted by Business Insider, Yahoo! Finance and 20 other media outlets.

Heavy: Kathleen Hartnett White: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

“If Hartnett-White joins Administrator Pruitt, polluters will stroll through the front doors of both the EPA and the White House, no questions asked, as the rampant looting of environmental and public health protection policies continues,” president of The Environmental Working Group Ken Cook said in a statement responding to Hartnett White’s nomination.

EPA and Michael Dourson

USA Today: A controversial nominee, not yet confirmed, is already working at Trump's EPA

“The only thing Michael Dourson should be doing inside EPA headquarters before he’s confirmed is visiting as a tourist,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy and research group. Reprinted 84 times.

CounterPunch: Mr. Toxicity Zaps America

Although, according to Scott Faber Sr. VP at Environmental Working Group, Dow AgroSciences itself makes safer alternatives, confirmed by Dow. Still and remarkably, really-really remarkably, considering Dow’s confirmation of safer alternatives, chlorpyrifos is the most widely used insecticide in the country.

Variety’s Power of Women Award

Associated Press: Weinstein top of mind at industry event with Paltrow, Apatow

Michelle Pfeiffer, who was recognized for her support of the Environmental Working Group, applauded Paltrow and the other women who have come forward for speaking out. "It took a lot of courage," Pfeiffer said. Reprinted 222 times.

Los Angeles Times: Power of Women lunch celebrates Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra, Michelle Pfeiffer and others

The Friday affair, which was at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and presented by Lifetime, recognized the philanthropy of Chopra for her work with UNICEF, Spencer for City Year, Pfeiffer for the Environmental Working Group, Clarkson for her work with the XQ Institute and Jenkins for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. Additional awards were given to Salesforce Chairman and Chief Executive Marc Benioff and Sato Project founder and President Chrissy Beckles.

Variety: Variety’s Power of Women Luncheon Celebrates ‘Love and Equality’

Michelle Pfeiffer, who was representing Environmental Working Group, spoke about her history with the company that she compared to a “wilderness guide to the deep, dark forest of toxic chemicals,” noting her interest in the environment came early on, when she was reading labels on common home and kids’ products like sunscreen and toothpaste and realized how unsafe they could be.

E!Online: Nikki Reed Brings Frills and Breast Pump to Variety's 2017 Power of Women Luncheon

Other honorees included Priyanka Chopra (for her work with UNICEF), Kelly Clarkson (for her work with XQ Institute), Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins (Anti-Recidivism Coalition),Michelle Pfeiffer (Environmental Working Group), Octavia Spencer (City Year) and Marc Benioff (Variety 2017 EmPOWerment Award).

Cleaning Products

Healthline: Know your cleaning products

The Environmental Working Group called out several harmful products by name in its 2012 Hall of Shame report. The organization also lists more information about products it recommends.


PopSugar Australia: 9 Easy Beauty Routine Swaps You MUST Make Once You're Pregnant

If you're pregnant or thinking about it, you'll want to take a good look at your beauty routine, too. "We should avoid risky ingredients at all stages of our lives," said Paul Pestano, a senior database analyst for the Environmental Working Group, an organization that researches and educates consumers about toxins in personal care products.

Reader’s Digest: The Most Toxic Ingredients in Your Nail Polish—and Safer Formulas to Try Instead

Toluene is a BTEX compound commonly found in varnishes, glues, gasoline, and nail polishes, according to the Environmental Working Group. This petrochemical and neurotoxicant causes nausea, dizziness and irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. 

Rodale’s Organic Life: 8 Organic And Natural Shampoos For Kids That Work Without Dirty Chemicals

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), doesn’t require health studies on the chemicals that go into grooming goods and doesn’t even review or approve the majority of stuff you see on the shelves, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Crop Insurance

High Plains Journal: We get stacks and stacks of manifestos

Then came a proposal from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, who’s introduced the “Sustainable Farmland for the Future Act” to expand conservation compliance in the federal crop insurance program. This bill introduction coincides with the release of an Environmental Working Group report titled, “Less Farm Pollution, More Clean Water: An Agenda for Conservation in the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Farm Subsidies

Washington Examiner: The way farm subsidies work makes no sense

Additionally, the Environmental Working Group found that between 1995 and 2014, the top 1 percent of subsidy recipients received 26 percent of all payments, at an average of more than $1.5 million per farm. By comparison, the bottom 80 percent of farms each received less than $8,000 over the same time span.

Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health

Eating Well: The Paleo Diet: Is Eating Like Our (Very Distant) Ancestors Really a Good Idea?

According to the Environmental Working Group, between 1971 and 2010 the worldwide production of meat tripled to around 600 billion pounds, while the global population grew by just 81 percent in comparison.

The Spoon: Leonardo DiCaprio Makes a Titanic Investment in Pea-Protein Burgers

EWG estimates that beef (along with lamb) puts out 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as grains and vegetables. Meanwhile, methane from cattle generates 20 percent of all U.S. methane emissions.

EWG's Consumer Guide to Seafood

Albuquerque Journal: Choose seafood wisely

Fortunately for seafood lovers, there are resources to select eco-friendly seafood that is low in mercury and pesticides. One of the best resources on choosing fish wisely is the Environmental Working Group’s Good Seafood Guide at

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in ProduceTM

CNN (transcript): New Day Aired October 19, 2017 - 08:30 ET

Even after being washed, some vegetables contain high levels of pesticides. The Environmental Working Group puts out a list every year of the most contaminated produce. Spinach was the highest ranking veggie on the 2017 Dirty Dozen list, followed by celery, tomatoes, sweat bell peppers, potatoes and cucumbers. Now, if you eat a lot of hot peppers, kale, or collard greens, the EWG recommends that you buy organic versions of those because they were frequently found to be contaminated with pesticides that are toxic to humans.

Daily Mail: Blueberries boost children's reaction times by 9% due to flavonoids in the fruit improving brain cell communication

Strawberries contain the most pesticides of any fruit or vegetable, research revealed in July.

The summer-favorite fruit contains at least 20 synthetic chemicals, a report by the Environmental Working Group found.

MSN: 6 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic (and Save Money Doing It)

Strawberries, the biggest offender, top the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen—a list of fruits and vegetables ranked by pesticide content after a vigorous wash. Blueberries and raspberries fare better, but you should still go organic with those when you can.

The Loop: How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Basically, a report by the Environmental Working Group found which fruits and veggies had the most pesticides when grown conventionally (i.e. not organically). When buying produce from the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list–which includes apples, berries and greens–you should go organic. The ‘Clean 15’–which includes onions, avocados and melons–have little to no pesticides when grown traditionally (and don’t need to be organic to be safe).

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