VW widely condemned for testing diesel fumes on monkeys and humans

30 Jan 2018

Image: Rainer Fuhrmann/Shutterstock

Volkswagen’s public image has taken a massive blow after it was revealed that one of its studies into diesel fumes involved monkeys and humans.

Politicians and environmental campaigners took a stand against Volkswagen (VW) in 2015 after the company admitted that it manipulated emission test results involving its diesel engines. Now, new revelations have sparked fresh moral outrage.

The New York Times revealed that the world’s biggest car manufacturer crossed many legal and ethical grounds by conducting tests that involved exposing humans and monkeys to diesel fumes for numerous hours.

The tests, carried out in 2015, were conducted by the US-based Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute and involved keeping 10 Java monkeys contained in small, airtight, diesel emission-filled chambers for periods of four hours at a time.

During that time, the animals were kept distracted by watching cartoons, all the while breathing in the damaging fumes.

It was claimed that the test’s purpose was to prove that nitrogen oxide emissions from the car had shown a significant decrease in toxicity with the development of new engine technology.

To create a comparison, the monkeys were also subjected to potentially greater quantities of diesel fumes from an older Ford F-250 car.

Once the monkeys were exposed to large quantities, they were anaesthetised to gather blood samples, their lungs were washed out and their bronchial tubes were inspected for damage.

In addition to the monkeys, it was confirmed that 25 young human adults were also submitted to the same levels of diesel fumes.

According to The Guardian, the company’s leadership said that the decision to push ahead with such unethical treatment of animals was the result of pressure from a small internal group and did not in any way reflect the company as a whole.

‘Not ethically justifiable in any shape or form’

However, industry observers have said that this claim does not hold up as documentation clearly showed that the results were presented to managers at VW, BMW and Daimler, who had all been a part of the now defunct car lobby group, the European Research Group of Environment and Health in the Transport Sector.

Daimler and BMW have since distanced themselves from any involvement in the studies, as their cars were not involved in testing.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has also weighed in on the debate, strongly admonishing VW’s part in the tests.

“These tests on monkeys or even on humans are not ethically justifiable in any shape or form,” said her spokesperson, Steffen Seibert. “The indignation of many people is absolutely understandable.”

Adding to the criticism, the country’s environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, said: “That a whole branch of industry has apparently tried to discard scientific facts with such brazen and dubious methods makes the entire thing even more horrific.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic