EWG News Roundup (7/20): The Best Bug Repellents, Lead in Schools’ Tap Water and More

This week, EWG released an update to its popular Guide to Bug Repellents. Based on testing data, EWG’s top choices for repellents contain the active ingredients picaridin, DEET and IR3535 for protection from a variety of biting insects and ticks.

Though some people are concerned about the possible drawbacks of ingredients like DEET, EWG researchers have analyzed the science in depth and found that, with proper application and precaution, our recommended active ingredients effectively reduce risk from life-altering diseases and have very low toxicity concerns.

“Insects that bite and burrow into your skin are not just a nuisance – they can carry dangerous, even deadly, diseases,” said EWG Research Analyst Carla Burns. “Educating yourself on what you can do to protect yourself and your family is important. EWG’s guide helps consumers choose the right repellent for their circumstances and provides additional tips to reduce risks from insects.”

EWG’s guide breaks down advice on what bug repellents are best for children, adults and women who are pregnant. The guide also goes beyond repellents to offer a list of do’s and don’ts for avoiding bug bites.  

Despite heightened concern in recent years about lead in drinking water, a troubling new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that more than 40 percent of the nation’s schools, serving about 12 million students, did not test for lead in 2016. And 16 percent of schools said they did not know if they had tested.

On the bright side, 43 percent of school districts, serving 35 million students, tested for lead in 2016. Of the districts that found lead at levels above the threshold, all reported taking steps to lower lead, such as installing filters, replacing old water fountains, and providing students and employees with bottled water. No federal law requires lead testing in schools, and the GAO said only eight states require testing.

“This report should shock every member of Congress and jolt acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler into action,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. “In the richest country on earth, none of our children should be attending schools where the drinking water is contaminated with a heavy metal that causes brain damage.”

And speaking of lead in tap water, the EPA’s inspector general said in a report that the Trump administration should take immediate steps to safeguard the nation’s drinking water from lead contamination and reduce children’s exposure to the potent neurotoxin. The report said Michigan regulators shared responsibility for the multiple failures that led to 12,000 children’s exposure to extremely high levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water. But it said that as the crisis emerged, the EPA didn’t move quickly or efficiently enough to protect the city’s residents from prolonged exposure to lead.

“The responsibility of protecting America’s children from further exposure to this brain-damaging neurotoxin ultimately falls on President Trump and his EPA,” Cook said. “Public health crises like the tragedy in Flint are almost certainly unfolding in other communities throughout the nation. Unless the agency ensures that regular testing occurs and strengthens outdated lead regulations, children in hundreds of communities could be exposed to lead at home, and in schools and day care facilities.”  

Last year, EWG released a searchable national Tap Water Database that provides information about contamination in the tap water of virtually every American. EWG urges the federal government to set a protective legal limit for lead in drinking water, as the government does for other water contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA should require more aggressive action to monitor both schools and homes for lead contamination, and compel water companies to speed up their plans to replace water service lines. 

And on Tuesday, American Oversight and EWG asked the EPA to release all communications between former EPA chief Scott Pruitt and the chemical industry to determine the extent to which lobbyists and trade groups influenced Pruitt’s EPA on how it evaluated the health risks of asbestos and three other highly toxic chemicals.

“The EPA abruptly retreated from a posture of moving toward more protection for Americans from these dangerous chemicals to a position that can only be seen as placating the chemical industry,” EWG Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh said. “The American people deserve the fullest account of how Pruitt and his aides may have colluded with chemical companies and their lobbyists. When a top public health agency has the power to ban asbestos, and it doesn’t, something is amiss.”

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

2018 Bug Repellent Guide

Well Rounded: This Is How You Should Protect Your Baby Against Ticks

Bug bites aren’t just ugly and itchy, those little blood suckers can spread nasty diseases. New info from the Environmental Working Group says it’s totally okay to DEET, and that it’s actually one of the best forms of protection against mosquitoes and ticks. The EWG admits DEET isn’t the perfect choice, especially for little ones, but says compared to the possibility of life changing illnesses like West Nile or Lyme Disease, it’s a reasonable one.

GAO Report on Lead in Schools’ Water

ThinkProgress: More than half of U.S. school districts aren’t testing for lead in their drinking water

Only eight states require public K-12 schools to test for lead, according to the Environmental Working Group. That requirement notably excludes private child care centers.

Common Dreams: As Trump Guts EPA From Within, Watchdog Reports Blasts Agency for Failures Related to Flint Water Crisis

In response to the inspector general's report, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) highlighted the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) recent finding that more than half of U.S. schools either didn't test their water for lead in 2015, or didn't know whether the water had been tested.

EcoWatch: More Than a Third of Schools Tested Have ‘Elevated Levels’ of Lead in Drinking Water

“This report should shock every member of Congress and jolt acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler into action,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. “In the richest country on Earth, none of our children should be attending schools where the drinking water is contaminated with a heavy metal that causes brain damage.”

The Farm Bill and Farm Subsidy Report

Daily Kos: House Passes Interior Spending Bill with Riders Imperiling Bay-Delta, Water Law

Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), the highest earner of farm subsidies in Congress, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group, praised the passage of the legislation. Farms that LaMalfa has ownership interest in have received at least $5.3 million in subsidies since 1995: www.ewg.org/... Reprinted by SF Bay Area IndyMedia.

Columbia Daily Tribune: Hoagenson, Thompson hope to unseat Hartzler

Hartzler’s family farm in Cass County received $198,121 in farm subsidies and other payments from 2011 to 2016, according to data from the Environmental Working Group.

Global Times: US think tank article blind to reality of China-US trade relationship

One is that the US has massive subsidies in its own agricultural and manufacturing sectors. According to estimates from the Environmental Working Group, US farmers received $352.5 billion in subsidies from 1995 to 2016 through crop insurance and other programs. And agricultural products are among the major US exports to China.

Environmental Protection Agency and TSCA

Chemical Watch: Groups seek EPA, industry communications on TSCA 'problem formulations'

Two groups have submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information to determine if industry interests swayed the US EPA’s approach to defining the scope of risk evaluations reflected in recent TSCA ‘problem formulations’. Legal watchdog American Oversight joined with NGO Environmental Working Group in submitting the request.

Scott Pruitt Resignation

High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal: Scandal-plagued EPA administrator resigns

Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said, “Scott Pruitt will go down in history as a disgrace to the office of EPA administrator. He will forever be associated with extraordinary ethical corruption and the abuse of power for petty personal enrichments. Sadly, the ideological fervor with which Pruitt pursued the destruction of environmental regulations and the agency itself lives on in the Trump administration. So while Pruitt is gone, and good riddance, our resistance to all he stood for will continue undiminished.”

Agriculture and Food       

Minnesota Daily: Venkata: Shifting food mentality because imperfect produce is perfectly alright

Selling imperfect fruit, rather than ditching it for aesthetics, saves millions of dollars for consumers, tens of millions of pounds of food, hundreds of millions of gallons of water and reduces our carbon footprint, according to Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco-based group who took its statistics from UNESCO and Environmental Working Group.

ATSDR Study on PFAS Chemicals

Decatur Daily: Water authority settles claims against Daikin for $4M, avoids rate increase

Reverse-osmosis systems are the most effective in removing PFOA, PFOS and other PFCs, according to David Andrews, a chemist and environmental expert with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C.

Cellphone Radiation

Newsweek: Do Cellphones Cause Cancer? Government Study Reveals 'Stunningly Important' Findings

“These studies should have been done before more than 90 percent of Americans, including children, started using radio-frequency-based technologies and devices day in and day out,” said Olga Naidenko, a senior science adviser with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. Reprinted by MSN.

Salon: Our cellphone addiction is turning wireless tech into an invisible weapon that’s destroying wildlife

Check out Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Safer Cell Phone Use.


U.S. News & World Report: Do I Need to Worry About Household Chemicals and Cancer Risk?

Samara Geller, a senior database and research analyst with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, says sometimes less is more when it comes to cleaning products. "You don't always have to use a harsh cleaning product or disinfectant product for your home." She says you can even make your own cleaning products with nontoxic ingredients already in the cupboard such as lemon juice or vinegar. If you prefer to buy a product, Geller says you can search for safer alternatives via the EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning, an online product database and report that lists nontoxic products.

MindBodyGreen: This Nontoxic Cleaner Can Replace Everything In Your Cabinet

However, studies continue to confirm that exposure to chemicals in cleaning supplies can cause health issues: The American Lung Association found that it is associated with higher asthma rates, and the Environmental Working Group has linked it to respiratory damage and wheezing.

Reader’s Digest: 13 Silent Signs Your Home Is an Unhealthy Place to Live

The Environmental Working Group’s investigation of more than 2,000 cleaning supplies on the American market revealed that many substances in them are linked to serious health problems like asthma, allergies, and even cancer. Instead, check out these 15 chemical-free ways to clean your home.

Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database

PhillyVoice: Raising green babies: Teaching our children to love and respect the environment

According to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Cosmetic Database, some of my usual brands pose a moderate hazard to my family’s health…Using the database, I found new products that have been evaluated by EWG to be completely free of harmful chemicals and are about the same price as my previous brands.

Organic Authority: Natural Skincare Pioneer, California Baby, Develops Plant-Based Preservative System

Eventually, all 90 California Baby products will phase out sodium benzoate (rated 3 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Cosmetic Database) and be replaced with the new product.

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in ProduceTM

Dr. Axe: 11 Largest Nutrition Lies in the Media

Each year, the Environmental Working Group releases the Dirty Dozen list, which details the pesticide content of non-organic produce. They also include the “Clean 15,” which are the produce items least likely to be contaminated. (35)

Living and Loving: How to choose low-risk fruit and vegetables for your family

The Environmental Working Group discovered that imported grapes have a particularly high concentration of pesticide residue and should be avoided. They contain about 34 chemicals.


The Cheat Sheet: These Are the Worst Spray Sunscreens, According to the Environmental Working Group

The coral reef isn’t the only concern officials have in regards to SPF. Due to misleading SPF numbers, the FDA and Environmental Working Group also have concerns for specific sun-protecting formulas. That coupled with the growing issue of spray sunscreen has us questioning whether or not our favorite formulas are safe to use.

HuffPost: The Best Sweat-Proof Makeup, According To Professional Makeup Artists

As an added bonus, Babo’s sun stick is top-rated by the Environmental Working Group, “which means [it’s] among the cleanest (non-toxic) sunscreens/blocks out there.” Reprinted by MSN.

Mind Body Green: Intrigued By Homemade Sunscreen? Here's Everything You Need To Know

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a notorious watchdog of the sunscreen industry, also cautions against DIY formulations because they tend to be clumpy and can therefore leave gaps in skin care coverage. Considering that more than 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States and approximately one American per hour dies of cancerous melanoma, being extra cautious when it comes to sun protection is an absolute must.

Reader’s Digest: 30 Sunscreen Dos and Don’ts You’ll Wish You Knew Sooner

The Environmental Working Group, a long-standing non-profit consumer information organization, has recently put out its updated Sunscreen Guide. It’s a comprehensive piece of work, featuring effectiveness ratings of 1000 sunscreens, information about sun exposure and skin cancer and a detailed breakdown of what we should and shouldn’t be looking for in a sunscreen. No time to read it before hitting the beach? Bookmark these key points instead:

Care2: Could This Be the Secret to Reef-Friendly Sunscreen?

Even if you don’t visit coral reefs on a regular basis, the EWG confirms that these chemicals are also powerful endocrine disruptors that can throw hormone levels dangerously out of whack. Unfortunately, these chemicals can be detected in the bodies of almost all Americans—even in breast milk.

Organic Spa Magazine: Natural Sunscreens to Protect Your Skin & Coral Reefs

According to the Environmental Working Group, at least 25 percent of the sunscreen you apply washes off the skin and into the water within 20 minutes. Each year, approximately 25 to 60 million bottles worth of sunscreen wash away into coral reefs.

Tampa Bay Parenting: Cool! Our summertime favorites for the beach bag and backyard

Before you head out to the beach, or outside in general, make sure you and the kids are lathering up with sunscreen! The Environmental Working Group recently released its 2018 Sunscreen Guide and found that 2/3 of sunscreens are either not effective or contain an ingredient they say may be harmful to your health. Check here to see if your sunscreen made the cut.

Tampa Bay Parenting:  EWG releases its 2018 Guide to Sunscreens, including the best sunscreens

The Environmental Working Group released its 12th annual Guide to Sunscreens and the findings are not much better than last year. The EWG tested more than 1,000 sunscreen products and found that nearly two-thirds of them either do not offer adequete protection or contain ingredients they say could be harmful to your health.

Superbugs Report and Label Decoder

Fast Company: Exclusive: Inside Beyond Meat’s innovative future food lab

Brown sees the facility gathering a group of scientists, engineers, and researchers for a very clear goal: to save humanity from its destructive animal consumption. A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that red meat production releases 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.

EcoWatch: How to Have Your Healthiest Summer Cookout Ever

No cookout is complete without a main course, but you should choose meat carefully. A new EWG analysis of federal data shows almost 80 percent of supermarket meat contains superbugs or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bacteria can be hard to kill with common antibiotics and are particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Reprint of EWG article.


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