Peter Binnie

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Peter Binnie was Vice President of Healthy Buildings International, a firm that consulted for the Tobacco Institute. He was a partner with [[Gray Robertson in the company which was originally known as Air Conditioning & Ventilation Associates (ACVA). This was the first major fake indoor air testing firm in America.

In mid 1985 the company struck a deal with Philip Morris, and later with the Tobacco Institute and RJ Reynolds. They would do fake IAQ testing of air in offices and public spaces, and down-play the role of second-hand smoke (ETS) in the problems that office workers were experiencing. This was partly due to the energy and oil crisis which made it expensive to maintain comfortable temperatures if the air-conditioning units were set to high air exchange rates.

This corruption of the IAQ testing company grew into a major international scam with dozens of companies getting in on the act, and the tobacco industry paying the companies millions of dollars in retainers, subsidised testing fees, and for radio, TV and press-briefings to promote the idea that the problem was Sick Building Syndrome rather than tobacco smoke pollution.

It has long been thought that Gray Robertson eventually bought out his partner Binnie, and changed the name of ACVA to Healthy Buildings International. However it now appears that Binnie kept working behind the scenes with HBI. Robertson, however, was the company's spokesman and CEO and he expanded HBI globally, bringing his brother Joseph Robertson in to run the Asian and Australian business.

Healthy Buildings International (HBI)
Peter WH Binnie and Joseph Robertson
Richard Silberman and Simon Turner
Jeffrey R Seckler and Reginald B. Simmons
Business Council on Indoor Air
The Legionnaire's disease scam
Sick Building Syndrome
ACVA/HBI (Doc Index)

Documents & Timeline

1981 ACVA first appears in the USA. It sells air filters and duct inspection ports and does IAQ testing. Gray Robertson and Peter Binnie are partners in the venture.

1984 Dec 21Two ACVA air testers ( John Madaris and James Lungren) were inspecting a building in New York when they were approached by someone from the Tobacco Institute. Gray Robertson was then put in touch with Marvin A Kastenbaum the Tobacco Institute's Director of Statistics and general assistant to the CEO. [1]

1985 Mar ACVA begins a 25 year arrangement with the tobacco industry (Tobacco Institute, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds) to do sham air testing of buildings and promote the idea that the buildings are sick, and that second-hand tobacco smoke is only a minor problem.

1985 Mar 13 The Tobacco Institute's Committee of Counsel meeting report lists the work being done by friendly scientists and contracted lobbyists. AVCA has been investigated by Tom Osdene of Philip Morris USA.

ACVA is a commercial organization that monitors air conditioning systems for commercial buildings, hospitals, etc. They have never recommended prohibiting smoking. Dr Osdene is meeting with them later this month. It is possible that this organization can be of great help."

[2] [This turned out to be the understatement of all time. The marriage between the tobacco industry and ACVA and its later incarnation HBI lasted for 25 years.]

1985 Mar 19 Notes of a meeting held between ACVA and the tobacco industry representatives. Those at the meeting were

ACVA is to "assemble its experiences/findings" on the cause of discomfort with indoor air." under a preliminary contract with the Tobacco Institute. [3]

1985 Mar 20/E Indoor Air Quality - Alternative Strategy
This is either a Bill Klopfer's or Tom Osdene's report after the meeting with ACVA. It signals the beginning of the serious relationship between ACVA/HBI and the tobacco industry.

New Focus:
The central argument ACVA Atlantic Inc. (a firm specializing on indoor air quality) makes is that indoor smoke is merely a symptom of a larger problem; inadequate ventilation.

Inadequate ventilation causes several serious problems including fungus and bacterial contamination. These pollutants often cause illness and discomfort, which are then blamed on cigarette smoke -- a more visible and socially acceptable object of attack. Although banning or restricting smoking may provide some psychological relief, it fails to address the basic cause of indoor pollution nor resolve the physiological impact of non-smoke pollutants.

We should refocus our efforts against smoking restriction legislation and regulation to a general promotion of comprehensive indoor air quality review and improvement. This is analogous to our efforts on the "self-extinguishing" cigarette -- to focus on overall fire prevention and isolate its supporters as anti-smoking.


  1. Mobilize all scientific studies of indoor air quality (e.g., radon, wood stoves, gas stoves, formaldehyde, asbestos, etc.) into a general indictment of the air we breathe indoors. Use a scientific front -- especially some liberal Nader group.
  2. Use this material to fuel PR offensive on poor indoor air quality.
  3. Create a model indoor air quality bill [with] focus on ventilation, filters, inspections, etc. Smoking would not be dealt with directly.
  4. Make presentations to all trade associations on the real indoor air quality issue.
  5. Organize firms like ACVA into a traveling road-show to hawke their wares to government and businesses much like the antis sell their advice to business and government on smoking policies.

To execute this program would require money, staff time and a first-rate PR firm.

They have been fed exactly the information what they wanted to hear -- that indoor air quality improvements can be promoted without reference to cigarette smoking -- and they plan accordingly. [4]

1985 Jul [In the Oct 8 1985 CTR Special Project list]

ACVA Atlantic Inc
Pilot study to assess home air quality
  Approved July 1985 for 3 months -- $13,800


1985-90 Peter Binnie is falsifying the results of building air quality inspection reports, according to deposition of Reginald B. Simmons, ex-employee of HBI.[1]

1990 Gray Robertson appears to take full control of the company; changes its name to Healthy Buildings International and expands globally. It was generally thought that Peter Binnie moved back to the UK at about his time. (probably wrong)

1994 Dec 15 Peter Binnie writes to John Madaris (who now works in the office) requesting that he clean out the HBI files.

The annual clean-our of the report files is now overdue. As in the past please discard all re-inspection materials generated prior to October 1991. This includes "Lead in Water", Radon Surveys and Mini-AQI's.[6]

[It has generally been thought that Binnie dropped out of HBI earlier in about 1990, but obviously he still remained with the company behind the scenes. In the mid-1995 years the tobacco industry around the world went on a "Document Retention" splurge, which meant getting rid of any incriminating documents from the files. Fortunately, they were generally incompetent at this.

It is notable that five days after this direction the Waxman Subcommittee on ETS in the US House or Representatives issued its report on HBI.

1994 Dec 20 The activities of HBI were exposed by a US House of Representatives Subcommittee looking at the problem of ETS. This was a result of the work of Rep. Henry Waxman.

Subcommittee on Health and the Environment - Majority Staff Report: Dec. 20 1994
Healthy Buildings International (HBI) began its relationship with the tobacco industry in 1985. At that time, the company was a small and obscure indoor air firm. In addition to the president and vice president, it had only two technical employees and operated under the name ACVA Atlantic. Over the next nine years, however, HBI grew to be an international presence in the indoor air field. This was due in large measure to the patronage of the tobacco industry. During this period, the Tobacco Institute, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, and the Center for Indoor Air Research (a tobacco-industry research organization) paid HBI millions of dollars for its services.
    The tobacco industry went to great lengths to promote HBI. The Tobacco Institute paid the expenses of a public relations firm, Fleishman-Hillard, to arrange media tours for HBI throughout the United States. From September 1990 to November 1992, Philip Morris covered all the expenses of, and paid HBI a substantial fee for, the publication of a magazine entitled "Healthy Buildings International Magazine." The magazine, which included glossy color photographs, was published in eight languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, and Finnish) and disseminated worldwide.
    A report circulated within HBI in late 1991 or 1992 describes "the HBI concept" that the tobacco industry paid so much to promote. According to this document, "the key objective of the HBI concept is to broaden the debate on indoor air quality to deflect the ETS challenge." The document states that "HBI is now positioned as an authority on IAQ issues" [and has] "brought balance to the IAQ [indoor air quality] debate" [by promoting] "acceptance that ETS is in fact a minor contributor."
    HBI performed at least two vital services for the tobacco industry. First, it conducted scientific research for the industry that purported to show that ETS is not a significant source of indoor air pollution. The most significant of these research studies was done in 1989, when HBI was paid over $200,000 by the tobacco industry's Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR) to study ETS levels in 585 office environments. The results of this study were summarized in a final report to CIAR in January 1990 presented to EPA in public comments in September 1990, and formally published in 1992.
    In addition to conducting research for the tobacco industry, HBI regularly testified for the industry in opposition to federal, state, and local restrictions on smoking. Over most of the last decade, HBI was the tobacco industry's principal defender on ETS matters. According to the records of the Tobacco Institute, HBI testified 129 times for the Tobacco Institute from August 1985 through September 1994 -- an average of more than once per month. In some months, HBI testified as many as six times. HBI's appearances for the Tobacco Institute included testimony before Congress (including this Subcommittee on June 27, 1986, and March 17, 1994), before state legislatures, and before local governments. [7]



  1. Trial Testimony of Reginald B. Simmons, October 20, 2004, in United States of America v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. Trial testimony. October 20, 2004. DATTA Collection. Bates No. SIMMONSR102004PM

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