Volkswagon: monkeys and humans exposed to diesel fumes in secret experiments

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Alarming reports were revealed in the past fortnight, that the German automobile company Volkswagon conducted various experiments in which monkeys and human participants were intentionally exposed to toxic diesel fumes. 

A laboratory had monkeys and human volunteers inhale exhaust fumes to prove the weak levels of toxicity in a diesel engine built by Volkswagon. These secret experiments, which were exposed by the New York Times, took place in the United States and in Germany, as part of a research initiative on “clean diesel”, financed by Volkswagen, the biggest automobile company in the world. Daimler and BMW are also implicated.

The Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, based in Albuquerque (New Mexico), carried out tests in 2014 in which exhaust fumes were inhaled by monkeys, in order to understand the effects on their health. Ten macaque monkeys were kept in isolated rooms where they were exposed to exhaust fumes from a nearby vehicle. Apparently cartoons were played to entertain the primates. The goal: to prove that American pollution standards were being respected. However, controversially, the Volkswagon Beetle used during testing was fitted with a device that could mask the actual levels of nitrogen dioxide (a toxic pollutant) being pumped from the exhaust of the car. These same devices were implicated in “DieselGate” in 2015.

Being aware of the media impact of such a revelation, the German automobile group apologised immediately after the results were published for “the misconduct and the poor judgement of some officials”. “We are convinced that the scientific methods used were erroneous. It would have been better never to have conducted this study”, declared the company. “The tests on monkeys or even on humans are in no way ethically justified”, says Steffen Seibert, spokesperson for German chancellor Angela Merkel. “The indignation felt by many people is completely understandable”. 

The Stuttgarter Zeitung also added to the controversy with a new revelation the Sunday before last. Certain tests, led by the University of Aix-la-Chapelle in Germany in 2013 and 2014, in fact used not monkeys, but 25 young healthy adults. The study had them breathe in varying concentrations of nitrogen dioxide over a period of several hours. For the moment, Volkswagon have not responded.