Heather White
Key Player

Environmental Working Group

Heather White is Executive Director for the Environmental Working Group and has a long history of progressive environmental activism. A graduate of the University of Tennessee’s School of Law, White served as recount counsel for Vice-President Al Gore during his recount fiasco in Florida. After Gore slunk away from politics to pursue climate change activism, White started her first stint at EWG, serving as counsel and chief of staff.

Following EWG, White served as counsel for one of the Senate’s most liberal members, Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), advising him on key energy and environmental issues including the Energy Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and global warming. Among the many environmentalist policies pushed by Feingold during White’s tenure, Feingold co-sponsored legislation to mandate that 25 percent of U.S. energy come from renewable sources by 2025 despite the fact that the country produces nowhere near the renewable energy necessary to come close to meeting that mandate.

Since assuming her current position at EWG, White has been the driving force behind the organization’s mission to demonize every day products as dangerous. For example, White launched EWG’s “Skin Deep” to scare consumers about the “dangers” of using their favorite personal care products, especially cosmetics. White uses “Body Burden” tests that have identified tiny amounts of many chemicals in the bodies of individuals to try and prove that the ingredients found in personal care products are damaging to consumers. However, there is no evidence that low levels of exposure lead to long-term health effects, especially at the minuscule amounts present in cosmetics. For example, White argues that the level of lead found in lipstick is the same as the federal limit for the amount of lead found in candy. However, women do not consumer a tube of lipstick in one sitting as they would a piece of candy.  The FDA even confirmed that the “amount of lead found in lipstick is very low and does not pose safety concerns.”

The EWG and White have been leaders in the witch hunt to completely ban the use of bisphenol-A (BPA) despite a lack of evidence that the chemical is harmful. The group was behind a 2010 study that showed BPA was present in a number of store receipts (in very low levels). The study succeeded in creating a media frenzy that led localities, such as New York’s Suffolk County, to ban BPA from receipts. Yet the Federal Food and Drug Administration has reviewed extensive literature and studies on BPA and determined that BPA is safe at low levels—even in food. Since one does not eat a store receipt, it is ridiculous to think that BPA should be banned in receipts for safety concerns.

White’s anti-chemical crusade has been particularly worrisome for its potential impact on sunscreen use. The EWG releases an annual guide to sunscreens questioning their efficacy. A New York-based Skin Cancer Foundation publicly disputed the report’s findings and stated that it was worried “consumers confused about the report might stop using sunscreens.”

Under White’s leadership, EWG is now pushing for regulation regarding cell phone radiation, claiming that using cell phones alters brain activity despite no evidence that cell phone radiation is damaging. The National Cancer Institute states that “Studies thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain, nerves, or other tissues of the head or neck.”

Scaring the American public is clearly one of White’s key objectives. In early 2013, the Environmental Working Group released an analysis of the FDA’s Retail Meat Annual Report of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System that declared “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics are invading American supermarkets. The FDA had to issue a statement condemning EWG’s report as “misleading,” stating that the group “oversimplifies the data and provides misleading conclusions.”