Summit Speakers

Summit Speakers

Melanie Benesh

advocacy specialist

Legislative Attorney

Carla Burns

Skin Deep® all-star

Research and Database Analyst

Ken Cook

fearless leader

President

Christine Gardner

wonder woman

Board Member

Samara Geller

expert in all things cleaning products

Senior Research and Database Analyst

Nneka Leiba

wellness rockstar

V.P., Healthy Living Science

Olga Naidenko, Ph.D.

super scientist

V.P., Science Investigations

Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D.

master of indoor air pollution

Senior Scientist

Alexis Temkin, Ph.D.

master of chemical safety

Toxicologist

Speaker Bios

Melanie Benesh, Legislative Attorney

As EWG’s legislative attorney, Melanie provides legislative and regulatory analysis of federal food, farm and chemical law. Melanie grew up in Omaha, Neb., and received her B.A. from Marquette University. After college, she worked as a research assistant, studying fair trade coffee in Chiapas, Mexico, and later as a community organizer for Voces de la Frontera, in Milwaukee. She received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 2014, where she was an evening student and a Cutler Salzburg Fellow, and served on the Georgetown Journal of International Law. She is fluent in Spanish and enjoys running, Cornhusker football and biking to work.

Carla Burns, Research and Database Analyst

Carla joined EWG’s research team as an analyst with a focus on toxics research. After graduating from the University of Rochester with a B.S. in earth and environmental sciences, she joined the Peace Corps. Carla was an agroforestry extension agent in Senegal, where she worked alongside farmers to implement sustainable agriculture and forestry practices. She earned a master’s degree in environmental science, with a focus on ecotoxicology, from American University. Carla brings several years of nonprofit data analysis and project management experience to EWG’s research team. When she’s not working, Carla enjoys cooking, learning new styles of dance and being outdoors.

Ken Cook, President

The president and cofounder of EWG, Ken is widely recognized as one of the environmental community’s most prominent and influential critics of industrial agriculture, U.S. food and farm policy and the nation’s broken approach to protecting families and children from toxic substances.

Under Cook’s leadership, EWG has pioneered the use of digital technologies to empower American families with easy-to-use, data-driven tools to help reduce their exposure to potentially harmful ingredients in food, drinking water, cosmetics and other household products. Capitol Hill’s closely read newspaper, The Hill, regularly lists Cook in its annual roster of Washington’s top lobbyists. It has said Cook’s “influence spans the country” and called EWG “the tip of the green movement’s spear.”

Cook is a board member of Food Policy Action (and founding chairman), Organic Voices and the Amazon Conservation Team and a former member of the board of the Organic Center.

Christine Gardner, Board Member

Christine is the founder of moregreenmoms and a trusted voice in her community. A sought-after thought leader, she frequently shares her insights about how to understand and eliminate harmful toxins from our environment. As an EWG board member, she has worked for many years on environmental education, advocacy and entrepreneurship. Christine is a member of the advisory council for the Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment and has served for 10 years on the board of the San Francisco Parks Alliance. Christine is the author of a children’s book, "A Moment of Quiet Is Nothing To Fear", a story that embraces the power of imagination and unstructured time for children. A graduate of Stanford University, Christine has worked in publishing, investment research and Internet development. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and three children.

Samara Geller, Senior Research and Database Analyst

A native New Yorker and former chef, Samara left the world of restaurant kitchens behind to delve into toxics reduction advocacy and pursue her education in environmental health science and policy. In addition to an associates of applied science degree in culinary arts, she holds a B.S. in conservation and resource studies from the University of California at Berkeley. Samara is passionate about her work developing EWG’s online consumer guides and databases, from cleaning products to cosmetics, in order to raise awareness and influence market change. Out of the office, she can be spotted skiing, cooking, and dabbling in the art of buying and selling antiques and vintage collectibles.

Nneka Leiba, V.P., Healthy Living Science

Nneka joined the EWG science team in 2006 and now leads EWG’s Healthy Living Science team, translating complicated science into easily accessible tips and advice. She is an expert in a wide range of issues, including the safety of ingredients in cosmetics and other consumer products, and drinking water quality. Nneka has appeared on CNN and the CBS Evening News, as well as other national and local television stations, and been quoted in Time Magazine, Yahoo News and The Huffington Post, among others. She was named a “Green Game Changer” by O Magazine for her research at EWG. She earned graduate degrees in zoology and public health from the University of the West Indies and Johns Hopkins University, respectively.

Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., V.P.,
Science Investigations

After graduating as a valedictorian from Colgate University, Olga began her graduate studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, focusing on the molecular basis of immune defense against infectious disease and cancer. During her graduate and postdoctoral research, she co-authored and published more than two dozen peer-reviewed papers. From 2007 to 2012, Olga served as a senior scientist at EWG, working to advance public policies to reduce Americans’ exposures to toxic chemicals. From 2014 to 2016, Olga held a prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science policy fellowship, working in the EPA Office of Water and focusing on climate change and water quality standards. She returned to EWG, in 2016, spearheading research on children’s environmental health. Olga loves reading and languages.

Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., Senior Scientist

Tasha holds bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and environmental engineering from Michigan Technological University. She worked as an environmental engineer for three years before returning to graduate school, earning a Ph.D. in environmental chemistry and technology from University of Wisconsin–Madison. Tasha moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for a post-doctoral position studying the ecotoxicology of nanoparticles at the University of California at Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. She is the author of six peer-reviewed journal publications and joined EWG in 2014. Tasha says growing up in the Northwoods shaped her character and inspired her sense of environmental stewardship. A native Minnesotan, Tasha enjoys the California sunshine but has recurring dreams of shoveling snow.

Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., Toxicologist

Originally from Chappaqua, N.Y., Alexis recently moved to Washington, D.C., to join the EWG investigative science team. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Connecticut College, in 2010. Alexis began her research career at Columbia University Medical Center studying the molecular mechanisms responsible for environmental influence on gene regulation. She attended the Medical University of South Carolina, where she earned a Ph.D. in marine biomedicine and environmental sciences. She studied how exposure to environmental chemicals during development can influence adult disease. When she’s not working, Lexi may be found in a yoga studio, exploring the closest outdoor park, attending a dance performance, or cooking vegetables.