EWG News and Analysis
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EWG News Roundup (7/28): National Tap Water Database Unveiled, Chemical Industry Shows Influence at EPA and Fighting Bee-Killing Pesticides
On Wednesday, EWG released its groundbreaking National Tap Water Database – a project two years in the making that allows nearly every American to punch in their zipcode to find out exactly what’s in their local drinking water and how it can affect their health. The information in the database goes far beyond anything utilities or the Environmental Protection Agency provides. EWG found a number of contaminants, that while regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, are often found at levels that many scientists believe pose health risks.
“Americans deserve the fullest picture possible of what’s in their tap water,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “But they won’t get that information from the government or, in many cases, from their utilities. The only place they’ll find that is EWG’s drinking water report.”
The database provides real solutions to Americans concerned about their water quality. First and foremost, it provides advice on choosing the right water filter so they can take matters into their own hands and remove contaminants. Filtering tap water is not only cheaper than bottled water – it’s far better for the environment, too.
Also this week, EWG investigated the Trump administration’s meddling with the implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, a law that was meant to give the EPA the regulatory teeth it needs to assess and restrict the use of certain harmful chemicals. In comparison to what was proposed in January under the Obama administration, the final rulemaking released last week by Trump’s EPA clearly showed chemical industry influence.
Another hot topic on our radar is the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops across the U.S. Neonicotinoids pose grave risks to bees and other pollinators – in 2013, the European Union placed a moratorium on their use. EWG presented 122,210 signatures to the EPA, urging the agency to rely on independent scientific research and take regulatory action against these pesticides.
For additional coverage on those stories, including extensive coverage of the Tap Water Database, here’s some news you can use going into the weekend.
National Tap Water Database
According to the EWG, “When most Americans drink a glass of tap water, they’re also getting a dose of industrial or agricultural contaminants linked to cancer, brain and nervous system damage, developmental defects, fertility problems or hormone disruption.”
“If the water has high levels of organic matter—which in most cases is algae—[utility districts] will disinfect the water,” Cox said. “It’s a real conundrum for these facilities because they have to disinfect it to prevent a huge public health threat. But the trade-off is more chronic health threats because so many of these byproducts are carcinogenic. So they don’t have a lot of good options.”
"We think the science has advanced, but the legal limits haven't been re-evaluated the way they should be," said Cox, who is based in Ames and leads the group's work on agriculture and natural resources.
"Americans deserve the fullest picture possible of what's in their tap water," said EWG President Ken Cook. "But they won't get that information from the government or, in many cases, from their utilities. The only place they'll find that is EWG's drinking water report."
The database was first launched in 2004, Nneka Leiba, EWG’s director of healthy living science, tells Fast Company; since then, updates were released in 2009 and now in 2017. “One of the reasons it takes us a while to update the database is also one of the reasons why it’s so important,” she says. “It’s the only available database that is this comprehensive and tells Americans what they’re drinking.”
“One of the challenges for us was to first, get across the message that ‘legal’ isn’t safe,” Nneka Leiba, EWG’s Healthy Living Science Director, told Gizmodo. In addition to heavy metals like lead and arsenic, chemicals that can be found in drinking water include dichloroacetic acid, bromodichloromethane and trihalomethane, all of which are linked to cancers and hormonal disruptions. The EPA regulates these chemicals, monitoring to make sure they’re within the legal limits of the Safe Water Drinking Act, but that can fall short of actually protecting us.”
Even trace amounts could still present a potential danger, according to the EWG. "The vast majority of utilities are in compliance with federal regulations, but their water still often contains contaminants in concentrations exceeding the levels that scientists say pose health risks," the group's press release states.
As Fast Company reports, the Tap Water Database from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, non-partisan environmental health organization, provides the public with water-quality information on 50,000 utilities around the country. Visitors to the website can search for their local water facilities by state or zip code.
"Legal doesn't necessarily always mean safe," EWG senior scientist David Andrews tells mbg. "The legal limits are often a few decades old, and these limits can be in negotiation between the EPA and water utilities."
Although EWG has not yet analyzed all the data it collected according to demographics, it did find some preliminary patterns. “We’re seeing a lot of problems in places that are more rural and lower income,” said Bill Walker, vice president and managing editor of EWG. Walker emphasized that agriculture is one of the biggest pollutants of drinking water in the country and that, while pesticides and fertilizers are used in many places, toxic runoff from these pollutants are found at higher readings in rural communities.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released a new online tool that allows users to check the safety of drinking water where they live. With just a zip code, the database delivers information about the contaminants found in the water utility serving that region.
“There are chemicals that have been linked to cancer, for example, that are found above health-based limits, or health guidelines, in the water of more than 250 million Americans,” said Nneka Leiba, director of Healthy Living Science at the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, an independent nonprofit organization that released a detailed account of the contaminants.
"Just because your tap water gets a passing grade from the government doesn't always mean it's safe," said EWG President Ken Cook in a statement. "It's time to stop basing environmental regulations on political or economic compromises, and instead listen to what scientists say about the long-term effects of toxic chemicals and empower Americans to protect themselves from pollutants even as they demand the protective action they deserve from government."
“Most people turn on their tap water and think: It’s clear, I live in America, we have these laws, I’m being protected,” said Nneka Leiba, director of the Healthy Living Science Program for the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “What people don’t realize is that there have been no additions to the list of regulated chemicals for drinking water since 1996.”
"It's time to stop basing environmental regulations on political or economic compromises, and instead listen to what scientists say about the long-term effects of toxic chemicals and empower Americans to protect themselves from pollutants even as they demand the protective action they deserve from government," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement.
The Environmental Working Group, a national environmental advocacy group, maintains an up-to-date Water Filter Buying Guide, which allows you to search all available water filters on the market to determine which will be most effective for your needs.
If you live in these areas or get similar results, Nneka Leiba, the leader of the tap water project and director of EWG’s Healthy Living Science program, says you shouldn’t automatically freak out — but you should take action. “Don’t see the numbers and get so panicked that you move to bottled water, because that’s not the answer — 50 percent of the time that’s just tap water,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. Instead, Leiba recommends using a filter for your tap water. (The database offers up water filter recommendations based on the contaminants in your area.)
Environmental Protection Agency
“This isn’t a budget — it’s a road map for the President, EPA Administrator Pruitt and polluters to see that millions of Americans drink dirtier water, breathe more polluted air and don’t have enough nutritious food to lead healthy lives,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement back in May. “With each cut in EPA funding, each regulatory rollback, each special favor for polluters, it becomes more clear that for President Trump, public health protection is not a priority, but a target.”
Last week, the House Budget Committee approved its fiscal year 2018 budget resolution, which directs the House Agriculture Committee to identify at least $10 billion in cuts over 10 years. Most of these cuts would come from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
Add to that this troubling fact I found out when I spent the day in Washington D.C. with the amazing people from the Environmental Working Group: A particular brand of so-called “permanent” eyeliner pigments caused serious, permanent disfigurement on people’s faces. The price of total non-regulation is not just potential illness—cancer, autoimmune, birth defects, etc., down the line, but also little-to-no protection from beauty treatments that do precisely the opposite of beautify.
They are not restricted in America. They weakly mimic estrogens, which originally led to concerns of a link to breast cancer. A Harvard study has also connected paraben build-up in the body with reduced fertility, which is why propyl parabens have been targeted by the Environmental Working Group. Even so, the FDA does not have solid evidence showing that parabens in cosmetics have an effect on human health.
Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in ProduceTM
Kidspot reports that a strawberry landed on tip of a EWG ‘Dirty Dozen’ list with spinach jumping adult to second place in a annual ranking of furnish with a many insecticide residue. The other fruit and vegetables that make adult a ‘Dirty Dozen’ include: nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, capsicums and potatoes.
Every food on a list tested certain for a series of opposite insecticide residues and contained aloft concentrations of pesticides than other produce.
Buying organic food can help you avoid unwanted pesticides, but with certain produce you don't need to spend the extra money because of the peel, such as with bananas or avocados. "Follow the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list, and buy only those foods organic," says Murthy. "Also, if you're into local farmers' markets, chat up the actual farmer about their methods: Many farms are organic, even if they can't legally claim it—it's expensive to become certified organic."
My boys observed that the words “natural flavors” seemed to be on most of the food packages they spotted at the store that day. In fact, the Environmental Working Group found in its research of 80,000 food products that only salt, water and sugar are listed more often than natural flavors on food labels. We all know that we aren’t supposed to eat too much sugar or salt, and water seems to be a safe bet, but what about that fourth most popular ingredient? Are we safe to consume a heap of natural flavors?
In fact, the Environmental Working Group found in its research of 80,000 food products that only salt, water and sugar are listed more often than natural flavors on food labels.
EWG’s Guide to Seafood
Fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, rainbow trout, Atlantic mackerel, and shellfish like mussels and oysters are rated by the Environmental Working Group as the best fish for you and the environment for their high omega-3 fats, low mercury levels, and sustainability factors. The ones you want to avoid due to higher levels of toxins are king mackerel, marlin, orange roughly, shark, swordfish, and tilefish.
Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Working Group, noted that sperm is manufactured daily by men's bodies. Recent exposures to environmental chemicals would have an effect on sperm, which serves as a good indicator of contamination, while also serving as a good biomarker of men's health.
Guide to Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the ultra-violet radiation and the sunscreen slowly breaks down converting to heat. Some studies show this can cause skin irritation to those with skin conditions like rosacea. According to the Environmental Working Group, oxybenzone has the ability to enter the body and may cause hormone and endocrine disruption.
Below, I’ve put together a list of the best sunscreens for babies—these are all included on the Environmental Working Group’s most recent list of recommended sunscreen brands, so you can rest assured they are all safe. Remember to get advice from your baby’s pediatrician if you have any questions about sunscreen and babies.