This month’s blog about sunscreen safety is going to be a little different than usual. I normally pick a topic about sunscreen safety that’s in the news, but I think today, I want to talk about a group I encounter over and over in my research on sunscreen safety.
First of all, I maintain this blog because I think sunscreen safety is an important health issue. This site is supported by Rocky Mountain Sunscreen. Yes, a “sunscreen” company is promoting the use of sunscreen. Some of you may already be crying foul. But before you make a conclusion that this site is a conflict of interest, I challenge you to explore its content. A big reason this sunscreen safety blog was started was to counter the rampant misrepresentation of facts about sunscreens—primarily from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). I haven’t quite nailed down why the EWG continues to shout from the rooftops that sunscreens containing oxybenzone and other organic chemicals cause cancer and disrupt hormones and should be avoided. I’ve been doing independent sun safety research for several years now and have NEVER found a peer-reviewed study with any concrete evidence that sunscreen will cause these problems in anybody (see oxybenzone article from a previous blog). I also fail to understand why the media continues to fall head over heals for the EWG’s yearly report on sunscreens as “news” when leading dermatologists, toxicology groups and cancer foundations consistently refer to it’s conclusions as junk science.
What this site really is, is a grassroots effort to counter the unfair representation of sunscreens by the media and it’s darling—the EWG. You may have heard of another offender list the EWG publishes called its “Dirty Dozen” report—a list of fruits and vegetables they have blacklisted because of pesticide concerns. The report includes favorites like strawberries, apples, spinach and bell peppers. Like the Sunscreen Guide, The Dirty Dozen has also been sensationalized by the media and perpetuated over the Internet. In my research, I recently came across a blogger by the name of Steve Savage. Steve, like me, is speaking out about the EWG—but on behalf of the American farmer as opposed to the Sunscreen Industry. Steve is a plant pathologist and agricultural scientist who has spent the last 30 years involved with, as he puts it, “helping meet the challenge of feeding 9-10 billion people without destroying the environment”. The paragraph that follows is an excerpt from his blog where he talks about the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen”.
“The EWG takes advantage of the transparent availability of the USDA-PDP data, but then performs their own “analysis” which experts have rejected as utterly anti-scientific. They generate an incorrect “grade” for the crop and post it as part of their “Shopper’s Guide,” and on their notorious “Dirty Dozen” list. The grower’s virtually perfect grade gets forgotten and what is passed along by an un-critical press and blogosphere, is the distortion that the crop is “dirty.” Many consumers believe this and heed the EWG’s suggestion that they need to buy organic versions of that crop (the actual agenda of the EWG is the promotion of organic and also their own fundraising). Worse still, there is some evidence that this disinformation causes consumers to purchase and eat less produce. At a minimum, many consumers feel guilty for not buying organic.”
On Steve’s Blog, Applied Mythology, he presents a thorough scientific treatise on the subject of produce and pesticides that I believe any objective reader would find credible. His conclusion about the EWG’s Dirty Dozen is this: “Eat more fruit and vegetables! And don’t worry about whether it is organic or not. The fact is that we know less about what is on organic produce than on conventional”.
So what does sunscreen safety have to do with vegetables? The Dirty Dozen is another glaring example that the EWG is much more than a “consumer research group” as the mainstream media likes to portray them. At the end of the day, I believe the EWG has a great deal more than just a consumer agenda. A few alarming facts about the EWG I found, were:
- The total reported 2008 salaries for EWG was $3,203,747. The total revenue for 2008 (the last year they filed a non-profit return with the IRS) was $6,242,570. This means over half of their total revenue went into paying their employees, of which, the top 8 employees garnered almost 1.2 million.
- As per federally filed lobbyist reports, the EWG hired ITSELF as its own lobbyist and has paid itself $309,514 in lobby fees since 2007.
- The EWG is a child of the Tides Foundation (now The Tide Center). Set up in 1976, the Tides Fund has garnered over $200 million since 1997, donations which critics say it essentially “launders” and doles out to non profits in the form of grants—providing anonymity for the original donors and making it difficult, if not impossible, to follow how the funds are actually being used. The EWG has received over 90 major grants from The Tide Center since 1989 totaling more than $20 million.
From the bleacher I’m sitting on, the EWG’s agenda seems dubious. They declare on their website that they are a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. When it comes to sunscreen safety, I don’t believe their sole purpose is helping consumers pick a better/safer sunscreen, but more to support products that are “natural” or “organic”—an agenda likely in line with the industries that their grant money originates from.
I’m afraid the EWG is doing more harm to people than good when it tells them to avoid certain products or produce, based on their non-standard, home-cooked science. If this blog sparks some debate—even criticism by calling out the EWG—good! When a pot gets stirred, truth often bubbles to the top.
3 Reasons the EWG is a Dubious Resource
Truth of the Money Trail
The Tides Center
Who is the Environmental Working Group?
Environmental Working Group
Small Group—Big Bucks
EWG Sunscreen Report Misleading
This blog is opinion by the author based on personal research. It does not intended to represent the views of any particular company or industry.