Theodor D Sterling & Associates

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

Theodor D Sterling & Associates was a major fake-scientific contractor to the tobacco industry. It underwent many name changes over the 1980s and 1990s -- It was variously known also by the initials as TDS, TDS Ltd., TDSA, TDS&A. The company was involved in many activities, almost all we know about were on behalf of the tobacco industry, involved in many scams to down-play the role of second-hand-smoke in office discomfort and in various research programs that implicated tobacco smoke in health problems.

Theodor D Sterling was the principal owner of the company which conducted indoor air testing (based in Vanvouver, British Columbia, Canada, but working worldwide). It professed to be an 'industrial hygiene' company concerned with Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) which contracted to industries and organisation who had problems with passive smoking. They were also heavily financed by the tobacco industry. Sterling himself was a lecturer in computer science at the Simon Fraser University, which gave him access to a major computer installation at a time when computer processing was only available to very large institutions.

The sons

Elia Sterling the eldest of Theodor D Sterling's two sons, also became one of the most notorious scientific dissemblers for the tobacco industry. Elia managed the family 'industrial hygiene' business while his father ran a computer science department at Simon Fraser University. Father and son both openly provided witness services for Philip Morris and other companies and organisations in the tobacco industry. It also run some secret tobacco project and was available to provide pre-determined research on demand.

Theodor D Sterling
Elia M Sterling
David A Sterling
Sterling Family (Doc Index)

Elia also came to play an important role in the indoor air-testing organisation ASHRAE (American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers) which later created European subsidiaries, and effectively set the standards of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) requirements in offices and factories around the world
David A Sterling, the other son, does not appear to have been directly involved in the day-to-day company operations, but he assisted the family's core business (which was fundamentally creating propaganda, and lobbying in support of smoking), by conducting some dubious questionnairre research with DJ Moschandreas at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Research Institute (IITRI) in Chicago. He also provide support for the family propaganda efforts through the Society for Risk Assessment and later (post-1990) provide witness services as Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Program, College of Health Sciences, Old Dominion Uni, Norfolk, Virginia.

TDS was a major 'consultant' to the tobacco industry, and Sterling and his family made a small fortune by offering witness services, conducting training sessions for tobacco lobbyists, and lobbying themselves. In the October 1994 Congressional Hearing the company was handled by the Kansas City tobacco lawyers Shook Hardy & Bacon. [1]

Documents & Timeline

1986 Jun 19Tobacco Institute Report of the ETS Advisory Group meeting. It lists a number of subjects discussed. One of these was presented by Don Hoel of Shook Hardy & Bacon who advised them about a study by Sterling on Repace. (Repace and Lowrey had conducted research on passive smoking links to lung cancer for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and this was an attempt to discredit their methodology.)

Dr Sterling has submitted the paper by Arundel, Irwin, Sterling and Weinkam entitled "New and Non-smoker Lung Cancer Risk from Exposure to Particulate Tobacco Smoke" to the American Journal of Epidemiology.

[Note the title is slightly different to the published study (see below); the submission is to a different publication (it must initially have been rejected), and the fourth researcher (Weinkam) had been removed from the final study.]

This paper is a critique of assumptions and calculations made by Repace and Lowrey in their paper entitled "'A Quantitative Estimate of Non-Smokers Lung Cancer Risk from Passive Smoking'" published in Environment International in 1985. The latter paper used a linear extrapolation model and estimated the lung cancer deaths in non-smokers to be 5000 per year in the US. [ie. They extrapolated from their smaller numbers of cases, to calculate the total population effect, by multiplication using a simple 'linear' factor.]
Considerable concern was expressed that Arundel et al. paper appears to endorse the linear extrapolation model. Don Hoel assured the committee that Sterling does not endorse the linear extrapolation model but feels the paper would be rejected by the reviewers if it doesn't imply acceptance of the model in his initial submission.
It is Dr. Sterling's intent to insert qualifying statements in the text after the paper has been accepted for publication.
Sterling and co-workers apparently have a second paper in preparation which would follow this paper and more specifically attempt to point out the inapplicability of the linear response model as well as the phenomenological model.

[Note: the 'linear extrapolation model' is the assumption that if you double the dose, you get twices as many cancers. If you quadruple it, you get 4 times as many, etc. The tobacco industry wanted a 'threshold' model which says that you get NO cancers below a suffocating level of second-hand smoke]

Considerable discussion followed concerning Sterling and co-worker papers as well as the problem of getting critical comments of the Repace and Lowrey papers into the published literature. It is known that several critical comments of Repace and Lowrey papers submitted to Environmental International have not been made public simply because the journal is not published on a routine basis.
Alternate approaches to get the information into the literature was suggested by members of the committee including submission of the critical comments sent to Environment International to other journals which have quoted the Repace/Lowrey papers.
Several members of the committee expressed concern that the papers by Sterling and co-workers had been submitted without prior review by the committee. Dr. Spears also asked if Sterling intended to notify the National Academy of Sciences that he does not agree with the linear extrapolation model. Don Hoel indicated that "he has no plans." [2]

[Note: Sterling intended to fool the publishers by inserting modifying data after acceptance. And there is no room for argument here about who was expecting to control the research report -- Sterling needed to have it cleared by the tobacco industry's ETS committee before publication]

The final paper, Nonsmoker Lung Cancer Risks from Tobacco Smoke Exposure was billed as "An Evaluation of Repace and Lowrey's Phenomenological Model" [3]

1986 Nonsmoker Lung Cancer Risks from Tobacco Smoke Exposure published by Journal of Environmental Health.

[Note: This is the study as published. It has been changed, and somewhere along the line it has lost one of the original researchers.]

This study by Anthony Arundel, Ted Irwin and Theodor D Sterling at the Faculty of Applied Sciences, School of Computing Science, Simon Fraser University was billed as "An Evaluation of Repace and Lowrey's Phenomenological Model". [4]

1994 Advocate Institute Report: Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights listing of "'Tobacco Industry Front Groups:"'

TDS Ltd.' is an indoor air consulting firm in Vancouver, British Columbia. According to Jim Repace of the Environmental Protection Agency, TDS's job is to infiltrate groups like the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which sets IAQ standards, and represent the tobacco industry interests without appearing to.


1996 Feb /E Anthony Andrade VP World Wide Regulatory Affairs, Philip Morris (ex Shook Hardy & Bacon) was giving evidence on behalf of the tobacco industry at an OSHA hearing in 1981 into the passive smoking problem and the OSHA attempts to establish a rule to eliminate ETS from the non-smoker's environment. The industry claimed "that ETS is associated with complaints in only 2-5% of all investigations." and that the major database on sick-building syndrome clearly indicates that tobacco smoke is rarely the underlying cause of complaints.
The submission quotes

  • Theodor D Sterling & Associates (TDSA Ltd.) as saying the correlation between symptoms and causative agents is weak, because there are many contaminants originating from both indoor and outdoor sources. They say that their "Building Performance Database" has data from over 200 sick-building investigations, and they can't identify any single likely cause. Smoking was implicated as a major contributor to complaints in only 12 of 408 (less than 3%) of buildings surveyed. They conclude:

    "Removing the smoker entirely, then, would not affect health and comfort problems in 95 to 98 percent of sick buildings."

  • The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) as claiming that in most IAQ complaints, the symptoms are non-specific and could be caused by a variety of factors. It reports that

    ..."psychosocial and physical stresses are certainly potential causes of some IAQ complaints and should always be considered in any investigation."

  • In the Healthy Buildings International (HBI) database of 412 sick-buildings, ETS was reported to be a significant contributor in only 3% of all buildings investigated.
  • Professor Alan Hedge of Columbia University has studied 4,479 office workers from 27 air-conditioned offices and couldn't find any correlation between complaints and the levels of ETS constituents in the indoor air. Hedge reported tat

    "… although ventilation has an important effect on IAQ, reports from workers in 46 office buildings in the UK indicate that complaints are even more strongly influenced by a number of personal and occupational factors such as gender, job stress, job satisfaction and computer use."

  • The National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) said that their experience …

    …revealed that there is a variety of factors which can interact to cause a worker to display indoor environmental health-related problems. These factors may actually be the primary cause, or may exacerbate an IAQ problem condition.

They say support for the new ASHRAE standard they are proposing also comes from: National Environmental Development Association's Total Indoor Environmental Quality Coalition (NEDA/TIEQ), ENV Services, Inc; Healthy Buildings International (HBI); Systems Applications International (SAI); Meckler Engineers Group and Gershon Meckler Associates; Theodor D. Sterling &Associates (TDSA), Business Council on Indoor Air (BCIA) Dow Chemical Company, the tobacco companies, unions, contracting associations (and possibly one which was not paid by the tobacco or chemical industries.) [6] See also [7]