For the last several years, I have utilized the website of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to assess the level of chemical exposure for everything from fruits and vegetables to cosmetics and skincare products that I frequently purchase. I have found their database of information to be extremely helpful over the years and it has definitely influenced my buying decisions on many occasions. For example, I stopped buying some organic vegetables and switched to locally grown, conventional produce if these items were listed as low to no spray by EWG. I even recommended their website in one of my blogs last summer, Organic Is Passe?
I am now not sure that EWG actually deserved that recommendation based on some of the information this group has been putting out recently. In a Oct 2008 report on bottled water, for instance, EWG trashed Zephyrhills Water (a reputable company with a wonderful, artesian water source not all that far from where I live). The data published by EWG is not in line with published water reports. Callers to EWG asking about this questionable data are given the runaround and told that the water reports “are done outside the office” (red flag) and that there is no one the caller can speak with to verify the accuracy of the results. On the flip side, callers to Zephyrhills Water are assured that the EPA requires the water reports be made public and that there is an error in the EWG report. Zephyrhills’ answer to the EWG report can be found at this link.
The second piece of research put out by EWG recently that has given me pause concerns the updated “dirty dozen” included in EWG’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides. The dirty dozen list identifies the fruits and vegetables that expose the consumer to the highest pesticide and chemical residues. This year, domestic blueberries made the list and were actually ranked in the top five for dirtiest produce! This comes as a complete shock to me as there are many blueberry farms near where I live and not one of the farmers I have ever talked to sprays pesticides on their blueberry bushes even if the crop is not organically maintained. I take my family blueberry picking on occasion and I have never worried about my children picking the blueberries directly off the bushes and eating them. Even one organic blueberry farmer in my local area commented that she can’t think of anything that conventional blueberry growers would be using that is toxic and that the only reason “some are not totally organic would be the chemical fertilizer some use through their low volume irrigation systems–and that wouldn’t make them high on a list of chemical use.”
So, what’s up with EWG? Could it be that the respect that the green community has for EWG’s research has caused them to sell out their reputation to some high profile, anonymous contributors who seek to use this stellar reputation to manipulate consumer spending? I have no idea and hope that someone out there can comment on this blog and shed some light on the questionable EWG info being published recently. If you have any information to show that I am mistaken, please comment. I sincerely hope that I am wrong in my assessment, but feel that my concerns about EWG need to be aired for others to investigate for themselves.
In the meantime, until I am reassured somehow that EWG has not, in fact, gone to the Dark Side, I am using the “Good Guide,” a startup founded by a professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley to assess the toxic load of the everyday products I buy. The Good Guide uses a simple 10 point rating system and 75,000 products have been rated as of March 2010. The Good Guide has companies like Clorox looking for help with their poor rankings – this is a good sign for objectivity in the rankings system used.
Isn’t simple objectivity what we as consumers are ultimately looking for? If EWG has lost it in the objectivity department, it’s nice to know that there are startups like the Good Guide ready to step into their shoes.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Since I am concerned about flouoridation of our water in Los Angeles I have been searching for the least fluoridated bottled water. It turned out to be Trader Joe’s artesian water from New Zealand. I requested their water quality report and received it promptly (which EWG said they couldn’t get). The mineral content is excellent; the fluoride content is negligible,and the taste is great. The price is also very reasonable. Yet, EWG gave the water an “F”! Iwould now never believe a word they say. They have lost credibility. According to my standards their investigative work is shoddy.
I stumbled onto your comment from January 24, 2011 re: Trader Joe’s Artesian Water from NZ where you mentioned that you received a water quality report from Trader Joe…
Do you perhaps have an electronic copy of that report you could forward to me? I too and working hard to remove fluoride from my living and do enjoy the Trader Joe water – tastes really good, about as good as VOSS but significantly less expensive…
Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist
Mama Bean, that would be great .. thank you for doing that. 😉
Sarah, has anyone posted a link to this entry to the EWG's FB page? I wonder if someone did, whether they might add a comment. I would be happy to post it for you if you like.
Thanks Sarah for giving us heads up on EWG as I also have recommended them as a place to seek out some solid statistics based on their researchers.
Have you contacted them to find out more with regards to your concern? I'd love to hear what they have to say.
When it comes down to it, we all have to continue with our own research and learn to discern, so I appreciate your input.
I'll have to check out Good Guide, never really spent much time on that site.
blessings ~ Carmen
I don't know what all the reports say about Z-hills water, but for the fun of it, I want to add my 2 cents : ) I have been out to Crystal Springs (where the spring is) and my son works there as a caretaker, keeping the spring clean and the surroundings. It is gorgeous. If there is a problem with the water, it happens downstream. The preserve is pristine. The only thing I would think about is that after a hard mornings work, my son takes a cool dip in that spring before heading off to his classes!
Thank goodness for the filtering system they have in place :0
FWIW, my EDS practitioner says there is arsenic in Zephyrhills Spring Water. If it's true, it's not really a surprise for us local DC/Z-hills folks. There are a bunch of industrial problems just north of there (upstream) and many citations have been issued. A few county dumps are close to the Z-hills water source… one that I know of is an industrial dump (construction materials, etc).
Regarding blueberries: our parent's next door neighbors are blueberry farmers. Nobody want's to say "Sure, I use pesticides!". I'm sure farmers will be especially careful not to say it to a health activist such as yourself. The farmer we know sprayed in the early stages but not in the later stages of fruit development. So, in his mind, they aren't really "using" pesticides if they only spray one time. The only way we even got this info out of them is because of my mom and her relationship with the farmer's wife (who knows my baby is highly sensitive). In our experience with our own gardening, one time is often all it ever takes to control the bug problem until the fruit/veggie is ripe for picking. But if you look at EWG's blueberry page, you can see that the number of times a crop is sprayed is probably not as critical as WHAT it is sprayed with. I think the question to the farmer should be: what do you use to keep bugs away (specifically). If they can't give you an immediate and specific answer (because they ALL have to deal with insects)… then assume they are using pesticides. Farming is not easy, I know, but I wish more of them understood how important this is to our health and future (as to their own families).
For now, I will trust EWG reports as it's the best I've found. I will check out the Good Guide, though. Thank you as always for your wonderful blogs, Sarah!
Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist
Yes, the Good Guide is really only good for assessing the toxic load of a product, definitely NOT for nutritional advice. LOL!
I would like to know WHERE conventional domestic blueberries are highly sprayed and with WHAT. NO conventional blueberry farmers anywhere in my area spray them with anything which is why I am skeptical of EWG claims about them.
this is just like @WithoutMonsanto on twitter. Once she rallied thousands of followers she proclaimed that GMO's aren't that bad at all because they increase the vitamin content and that everyone should eat them. Does she really think we're that ignorant?
PS: blueberries are sprayed tons of chemicals, no one should eat them conventionally grown!
Eek! That "good guide" has some pretty crazy food advice on it. Maybe the toxic food guide is ok but they give Nature's Path Organic Rice Puffs Cereal one of their highest ratings and advice avoiding saturated fats and cholesterol. 🙁
I hope they haven't gone to the Dark Side. I look to them for a lot of helpful information on foods, household products and cosmetics.
is it possible that in certain areas of the country where blueberries are grown that different levels or types of pesticides are used that would obviously be more harmful? Perhaps where we are in FL, it is not congruent with the farming practices elsewhere? I don't know enough about blueberries to know where they are grown and what you need or don't need, but I'm wondering if we're an exception?