Toxic Torts Clearinghouse

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

The Toxic Torts Clearinghouse was a corporate-directed operation set up by PR firm Hill & Knowlton in the mid-term (1983) of the Reagan Administration. This was at the time of the battle over the Superfund, CERCLA Act (clean up legislation) and various scandals like the Times Beach, Missouri civilian exposure to dioxins.

Wayne H Valis and his employee Jill Hanson at Valis Associates were involved in the operation.

The aim of the Clearinghouse was to

  • Provide Monitoring
  • Facilitate Dialogues and Discussions
  • Conduct Special Briefings
  • Sponsor Policy Debates on key issues (Acid Rain, Agent Orange, Times Beach, Risk Assessment and on evolving legislative and regulatory proposals)
  • Support and Coordinate Work Groups

Documents & Timeline

1983 Sep 27 Hill & Knowlton and Valis Associates have run a workshop on the Toxic Torts Clearinghouse which Katherine L Becker of the Tobacco Institute attended. The Clearinghouse is still in its early formation stages, and they want funding from asbestos, chemical, tobacco companies etc. (any with poisoning and polluting problems). In return for funding the Tobacco Institute would be given a seat on the board. Workshop speakers included:

  • Thorne Auchter (later a business associate)

    In his presentation, Thorne Auchter, head of OSHA, devoted much of his time to criticizing a recent Nader report on OSHA and to answering Washington Post reports on his actions in the ethylene dibromide matter. Auchter told the audience industry must be "equally concerned about appearance, as well as substance."
    Referring to the Nader and Post items, he said "this type of public relations problem" can be avoided through a centralized information-sharing entity - a clearinghouse. In his view, such a clearinghouse would help industry deal with the "subculture of health activists."

  • Rep James J Florio (D-NJ) (He helped write the Superfund legislation, and was a critic of EPA's toxic sites cleanup operations)[2]
  • Jim Tozzi (also a later partner)

    a former high-ranking official at the Office of Management and Budget (OIRA), spoke of the "enormous potential cost" of proposed toxic victim compensation systems, citing as an example the black lung program and its costs.* According to Tozzi, if the asbestos victim compensation system proposed in H.R. 3175 were established, the costs would be nearly $30 billion annually. Because this system would be funded by the asbestos industry, the program would necessitate a $1,000 per ton tax. (Asbestos presently sells for $340 a ton.)
    As further proof of the economic burden likely to result from victim compensation, he listed the number of possible claimants for various "toxicants": silica, 3.2 million persons; cotton dust, 500,000 persons; and, radiation, 750,000 persons.

  • J. Marshall Coleman, Esq., Beveridge & Diamond, (Tozzi now worked for them) former Attorney General for Virginia, was the only person to mention smoking during the workshop. Coleman believes the present tort and workers compensation systems can handle any toxic victim compensation. He called the absestos claims situation a "unique case". Speaking about cancer, Coleman said its cause can "rarely" be pinpointed to one factor. Rather, he continued, the "vast majority of cases" of cancer are "owed to other things, like smoking...not toxic wastes."

The Tobacco Institute saw the Clearinghouse as a potential threat, as much as a solution. They imagined the Chemical Industry Association, might use it to divert attention to cigarettes, rather than chemicals [3]

Attached is a copy of a speech made by Jim Tozzi.

1983 Oct 21 Wayne H Valis and his associate/employee Jill Hanson (mis-reported as 'Jo') have been in touch with the Tobacco Institute and want a meeting about the Toxic Torts Clearinghouse, which they are running in association with Hill & Knowlton. [4]