German auto giants use monkeys to test diesel exhaust gases

Alicia Cross
February 2, 2018

A group of German scientists funded by German carmakers exposed humans to toxic fumes in experiments, German newspapers Stuttgarter Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Monday. Co-founding member Robert Bosch GmbH left the group in 2013.

The German scientists tested "short-term nitrogen dioxide inhalation by healthy people", following which a hospital in Aachen university examined the 25 subjects after they had inhaled varying amounts of the gas over several hours.

German vehicle makers have been scrambling to put distance between themselves and a European research group after reports in the New York Times late last week that said the manufacturers had sponsored an experiment that exposed monkeys to diesel fumes to prove they were safe. Things changed in June 2012 when the World Health Organization labeled the exhaust emissions generated by diesel engines as being "carcinogenic to humans", thus forcing those involved in organizing these tests to resort to something else.

The prime minister of the federal state of Lower Saxony (northern Germany), Stephan Weil, described today as "absurd and disgusting" these experiments are. "We're convinced the scientific methods chosen then were wrong".

Volkswagen's advisory board has called for an investigation into the activities of the now defunct organisation and the sub-contracted research companies it hired, including the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, New Mexico.

"We are appalled by the extent of the studies and their implementation", Daimler said in a statement.

The experiments would have been commissioned by the European Association for Studies on Health and the Environment in Transport (EUGT, for its acronym in German), an entity founded by the Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW automobile consortium.

The New York Times reported on Friday that research aimed at defending the fuel's impact on the environment was carried out at a lab in the USA in 2014.

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The controversy comes as the German auto industry tries to recover from the "Dieselgate" scandal of 2015, in which it emerged several carmakers had fitted software to their diesel engines created to cheat emissions tests.

The Volkswagen Beetle TDI used in the monkey test was equipped with compromised software that allowed it to run much cleaner in lab conditions than it would on the road.

The test result stands in contrast to long-term medical studies drawing a link between nitrogen-dioxide and breathing problems, particularly among the young, the elderly and asthmatics.

"Over the weekend we had to learn once more that there is still a long way ahead of us to regain lost trust", VW CEO Matthias Mueller said late on Monday at a reception in Brussels in his first public remarks on the tests.

Despite the wave of apologizes, the monkey business isn't going away anytime soon as Reuters reports Volkswagen's supervisory board has called for an investigation into who commissioned the tests.

In a statement, BMW said it "did not participate in the mentioned studies".

In a statement cited by Bloomberg, Volkswagen says it "explicitly distances itself from all forms of animal cruelty", as "animal testing contradicts our own ethical standards".

However, and here's the rub, the testing on animals will continue beyond cosmetics, with the monkey study a case in point of how companies and research organisations side-step laws.

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