Gray Robertson

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Gray Robertson (who was born John Graham Robertson) with his partner Peter Binnie were from the UK, and shifted to the USA to set up a business servicing air-conditionin (HVAC) equipment. They set-up and ran a highly successful, and very lucrative air-testing operation for the tobacco industry, known as Air Conditioning & Ventilation Associates (ACVA), which spawned many imitators. ACVA later split into: ACVA Atlantic and ACVA Pacific -- and then became known as HBI which was the common name for Healthy Buildings International. They had a Scandinavian branch (probably franchaised) and Gray Roberson also brought his brother Joe Robertson into the business to run the Australian, Asian and Pacific operations from Sydney, Australia.

Robertson claimed to be an industry consultant and business owner in the field of building ventilation and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) testing. His consultancy for the tobacco industry was in the nature of doing fake air testing, providing misleading reports on indoor air quality (IAQ) and providing witness services for the industry at Congressional and other hearings where he inevitably claimed that passive smoking wasn't a problem that couldn't be fixed by increasing the ventilation rates. He operated highly successfully with the Tobacco Institute virtually providing an agency role, sending business to him in the knowledge that he would not increment second-hand smoke in his evaluations to any substantial degree.

ACVA was funded by the tobacco industry to always generate measurements which downplayed the role of smoke, while exaggerating the problem of formaldehydes, plastic exudates from synthetic carpets and exaggerated claims of vapors from photocopiers, etc. etc. and both dirt and bacteria/fungus in the air ducting ... and then recommending solutions which included faster rates of air-exchange in offices, and expensive reconditioning of air ducting and conditioning machinery. He claimed in many studies that "Tobacco smoke was only implicated in approx. 5% of the buildings studied" ... and that these cases "were normally the result of poor, or in some cases, of virtually negligible ventilation." [4]

Such services were also supported by air-conditioning corporations and sheet-metal workers organisations. The company became only the first (but most financially rewarded) of a dozen or so air-conditioning firms contracted surreptitiously through the Tobacco Institute in America -- and similar operations also worked in other countries. ACVA extended internationally doing work for the tobacco industry in Europe and Asia. See also the Labor Management Committee

ACVA and ACVA Atlantic
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)

Healthy Buildings International

Later Robertson took over and restructured the company, creating Healthy Buildings International (HBI), becoming its sole owner, although he franchised some regional operations and brought his brother, Joe Robertson, in to manage Australian and Asia-Pacific operation out of Sydney. With the business expanding internationally. Robertson hired Reginald B. Simmons in 1986 as a field technician and project team supervisor. At that time the main company was still known as ACVA Atlantic.[1]

In the late 1980s Gray Robertson also hired Jeffrey R Seckler as one of his principle staffers in the USA. Seckler became the HBI spokesman and witness on various tobacco industry inquiries, but later he attempted to create his own air-testing company and the two fell out. Robertson then began systematically attempting to destroy Seckler's business and reputation, and eventually, Seckler retaliated and became a whistleblower who exposed in full detail the way the sham air-testing 'profession' operated.

Robertson was totally dependent on the tobacco industry for his very lucrative business, and he was always on hand whenever they needed help. He became a director of the Business Council on Indoor Air, and provided witness statements for the tobacco industry on demand. [5]


Gray Robertson was born and raised in Liverpool, England. He graduated from London University in 1964 with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and botany, including extensive study of mycology (fungi). Robertson spent three years working as a bacteriologist with Evans Medical Company, Ltd., in Liverpool. He subsequently joined the Johnson Matthey Company, working for various subsidiaries in England and the United States as a chemist. He headed the chemicals division of the subsidiary, Matthey Bishop Inc., including supervision of its analytical laboratories. Robertson began focusing on the problem of indoor pollution in 1980. He worked with his associate, microbiologist/zoologist Peter Binnie. His biosketch claims they worked together to develop methodology "to identify and eliminate the sources of indoor pollution."[2]

Gray Robertson's own biography makes these claims:[6]

1959-61/E Employed in a laboratory (he says as a 'bacteriologist') in Evans Medical Company Ltd. which is part of Glaxo Group. Liverpoool. He was studying for a Higher Certificate of Education 'in Botany and Zoology' at the Liverpool Technical College.

1961-64/E London University

1964 Graduated with BSc in Chemistry and Botany, London University (Queen Elizabeth College)

1964-73 Employed by Johnson Matthey Company in UK as chemist in oil, gas and chemical industries.

1973-78 Head of the Johnson Matthey Co chemical division in the USA

1978-80 General Manager of Phosyn International Ltd (chemical trace-element company.)

1980 Became the Director of Winton Laboratories Ltd, English company specialising in the study of indoor air pollution in Europe, Asia and Scandinavia. [later puff pieces says he was "International Technical Sales Director"]

1980-81 Worked at Winton with Peter Binney, technical director of the company

1981 Robertson and Binnie licenced the Winton technology to "identify the source of indoor air pollution" and shifted to the USA where they incorporated the ACVA. See the Document Index.

1988 Jan 29: A meeting of the ETS Advisory Group of the UK's Tobacco Advisory Council has been addressed by an RJ Reynolds executive and reported by Sharon Boyse, the Issues Manager of BATCo.

RJR elaborated on the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR) being set up by the US Tobacco industry. Apparently a suitable head has been identified for the Centre and it is hoped to open on 1st February. The approximate funding figure for research (after running costs etc.) was expected to be $5 million. It was noted that the CIAR would try to broaden the issue by focusing not simply on ETS. The aim would apparently be to keep the unit quite separate from the Tobacco Institute and therefore give it more scientific credibility.

The same document carries a report on Gray Robertson of ACVA who has been used as a spokesman/expert witness by the US tobacco industry. RJR pointed out that ...

although the abilities of Gray Robertson as a presenter are undeniable, this is not the case for his scientific abilities. They felt, in particular, that his methodology could not stand up to scientific scrutiny and that some of his data was questionable. TAC are about to embark upon an indoor air quality program with the European Branch of ACVA, IAQ Diagnostics Ltd.; these criticism should perhaps be borne in mind. [7]

Method of operation

Robertson's "modus operandi" was to discount the contribution that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) made to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) in the buildings that his staff tested with special air sampling equipment. He was paid substantial sums by the Tobacco Institute, and also by the various tobacco companies, for some of this work -- and was generously rewarded in other ways for his "denial" statements, speeches, and witness statements.

Robertson and his company provided the tobacco industry's major support for their claims that the cause of "sick buildings" and general office, restaurant, and hotel pollution problems, came from sources other than smoking. He pointed the finger at poorly maintained air-conditioning systems (which could harbor dust, bacteria and fungus), and volatile chemicals from office machines, synthetic carpets, etc.

In doing this air-quality testing, HBI staff was accused by anti smoking activist Alfred Lowrey of using using a number of ploys to reduce the smoke readings -- such as setting up their test equipment in the less smoke-polluted parts of the building, and using equipment in ways that didn't reflect the actual conditions. Some of the smoke constituents, like nicotine for instance, only have a short survival life, so the time at which measurements are taken can also be critical. HBI published a detailed rebuttal to these claims [3] The conclusion to this rebuttal includes the following statement:

In this response to Lowrey’s non-peer-reviewed and unsubstantiated report concerning our 1992 paper, we have systematically addressed every issue he raised. Our regeneration of the entire database used to write our original paper verified that the conclusions we drew are as valid now as they were then. Further, the methods that we used to measure ETS components and the subsequent data analyses were scientifically sound and appropriate. The results reported in 1992 are similar to values reported in the majority of the published literature on the measurements of ETS in the office environment. In contrast, Lowrey (1994) misrepresented our data and misinterpreted our findings to draw unfounded and unwarranted conclusions. In addition, the selection of data convenient to his case raises serious questions about other aspects of his work (Repace and Lowrey 1980, 1982). We urge that it be critically re-examined in the light of larger, more representative and credible field studies now available and that they explain the practice of data selection evident in Lowrey (1994). The flaws in Lowrey’s report we have documented above clearly show that as an objective alternative view of our results, Lowrey’s report has no merit.

According to HBI whistle-blower, Jeff Seckler, they often resorted to guessing or changing the figures when writing up the reports. [4]

However, in a subsequent legal settlement with HBI, Seckler admitted in writing that he knew of no wrong doing by HBI. The settlement conditions read in part,

Relator expressly acknowledges that to his knowledge HBI did not falsely and fraudulently obtain contracts from the United States and did not falsely and fraudulently perform indoor air quality inspections of United States Government buildings and did not falsely and fraudulently represent to the United States on the indoor air quality inspections it performed on government buildings.[5]

On the web site and blog archive Tobacco On Trial, which covered the court proceedings of the 1999 U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against the major American tobacco companies, Seckler stated,

I deeply regret ever signing any agreement with tobacco interests and Healthy Buildings International to settle our lawsuit. My actions were primarily due to my poorly financed (I suspect) lawyer’s unwillingness to go to trial. My settlement statement was limited to my personal knowledge of air quality inspections (I was not an inspector) of federal buildings and in no way rescinded any of the other allegations I made about the public relations and other activities of my previous employer (HBI). I would be more than happy to discuss any of this with any interested party.[6]

HBI was able to charge low prices for building surveys because the tobacco industry made generous contributions to the work and supported Robertson through witness, speech, travel expenses, and many other fees. He was one of their most important consultants in two areas:

  • Workplace smoking -- which involved the industry's efforts to block regulation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in offices and factories.
  • Public smoking -- which was the progressive crusade to isolate, and then end smoking in restaurants, hotels, casinos, and public areas.

HBI Magazine

HBI also produced a magazine on indoor-air pollution problems, which was circulated in large numbers around the world to building managers and owners, and to those involved in the ventilation industry.

It was totally controlled and funded by Philip Morris.

Public testimony

Gray Robertson appears in 1980s Philip Morris video to argue that health problems attributed to passive smoke are 'probably' caused by bad ventilation.

Gray Robertson was a favorite witness for the tobacco industry at Congressional inquiries, courtroom compensation battles, and scientific conferences. He was also thought to be an excellent spokesman in media situations, and was highly useful for promoting the industry's message that passive smoking wasn't really a problem in the workplace.

The tobacco industry paid him $500 a day personally, to travel all over the world giving testimony, speeches, etc., on their behalf. He also wrote articles for popular magazines and newsletters, or had them ghosted under his byline.

Gray Robertson has sold the company and in 1999 HBI severed all relationships with the tobacco industry.[citation needed]

Some Documents

1988 June 27 Report on the Indoor and Ambient Air Quality Conference, made to Philip Morris. The Conference, organized by Professor Roger Perry of Imperial College, London, was attended by approximately 200 individuals. [Note: Perry was a lifelong tobacco lackey]Eighty papers were presented, and nearly half of those presentations dealt with environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). [Note: most, but not all, by tobacco scientists]

Papers given at the Conference have been published and distributed under the title Indoor and Ambient Air Quality ( Selper Ltd., London, 1988.) In addition, fourteen selected papers appear in the June 1988 issue of Environmental Technology Letters [Note: A journal owned and edited by Prof. Roger Perry]. Copies of the proceedings and journal were made available through Professor Perry. A copy of the Conference program was attached to this memorandum. On Monday, June 13, an article (attached), appeared in the (London) Times which reported that the WHO: had withdrawn from the Conference due to tobacco industry involvement.

The report commented:

  • Gray Robertson (ACVA -- later HBI) ; "Ventilation, Health and Energy Conservation: A Workable Compromise ." In what was perhaps the most entertaining and persuasive lecture of the entire Conference, Robertson discussed his experience in the evaluation and mitigation of indoor air quality problems in buildings. Robertson contended that virtually all indoor air quality problems can be traced to inadequate fresh air ventilation, poor filtration or dirty ductwork. In his experience, ETS is a marker for, and not a cause of, poor indoor air quality. Ventilation adequate to disperse CO2 will also be sufficient for the removal of ETS.

Perry Conference Report

In 1994 Dec 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. [8]



A July, 2004 press release by HBI still listed Gray Robertson as President of HBI.[7]

Gray Robertson
Healthy Buildings International (UK Head Office)
229 Hyde End Road
Spencers Wood
Berkshire RG7 1BU
United Kingdom
Tel: (0118) 988 9999
Fax: (0118) 988 5599
Email: info AT

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Written trial testimony of Reginald B. Simmons accepted October 20, 2004, United States of America v. Philip Morris USA Inc. October 20, 2004. DATTA Collection Bates No. SIMMONSR-ER
  2. Abblitt LL, Newsom JT, Robertson G, Scarlett L, et al Issues of the 90000s The Indoor and Outdoor Environment workshop invited speakers June, 1996. 12 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2045914993/5004
  3. Environmental tobacco smoke: Allegations of scientific misconduct, Environment International, Volume 22, Issue 2, 1996, Pages 263-268
  4. Seckler J.Disclosure Statement of Jeffrey Seckler Seckler, J. in Seckler v Healthy Buildings International. Sworn statement. April 6, 1993. 18 pp. British American Tobacco Bates No. 500894232/4249
  5. Seckler J [1] Seckler response to “Mon, AM: Webb and Robertson Continue to Hammer Gov’s HBI case”
  6. Seckler J [2] Seckler response to “Mon, AM: Webb and Robertson Continue to Hammer Gov’s HBI case”, posted October 27, 2007 at 10:01 PM
  7. Healthy Buildings International Healthy Buildings International Launch an Interactive, Web-based Training Seminar on Moulds in Commercial Buildings Press release. July 15, 2004

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