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VW, BMW and Daimler embroiled in gassing claims…

A research group funded by VW, BMW and Daimler has landed the German Three in the middle of a storm over claims the research group tested on animals…

…AND THAT COMPANY representatives in the legal and technical departments knew all about it. With Volkswagen still struggling to recover from dieselgate, it is now, once again, in self-defence mode after a German newspaper and the New York Times published stories about how a research group established by VW, BMW and Daimler conducted nitrogen dioxide testing on both humans and monkeys.

It’s been confirmed the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) which was disbanded 12 months ago and was funded by the German Three conducted nitrogen dioxide testing on humans in 2014. The test, which was confirmed by Aachen University’s research hospital, the site of the test, was allegedly to do with workplace safety and not related to the automotive industry.

Stephen Weil, who represents the German state of Lower Saxony, a VW shareholder, said at a news conference, “At the end of the day, the purpose of such experiments is the decisive factor. If for example, safety and health in the workplace were being tested, as Aachen University has suggested, and ethical standards were adhered to, it is defensible”.

“Where experiments served the purposes of marketing and sales, however, I cannot think of an acceptable justification for such an approach.”

“We are appalled by the extent of the studies and their implementation,” Daimler said yesterday in a statement emailed to Automotive News in the US, adding it didn’t have any influence over the study and promised an investigation. “We condemn the experiments in the strongest terms.”

In addition to the ‘workplace’ nitrogen dioxide study, it’s alleged that VW was aware the EUGT had subjected monkeys to diesel exhaust fumes to defend diesel against claims the fumes by the World Health Organisation in 2012 that diesel fumes were carcinogenic. The test was conducted in 2014.

“I will do everything possible to ensure that this matter is investigated in detail,” Volkswagen supervisory board Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch said in a statement on Monday responding to a New York Times article on Friday last week. “Whoever is responsible for this must of course be held accountable.”

According to the New York Times 10 monkeys were forced to breathe the diesel fumes from an old diesel ute and then the fumes from a newer VW Beetle. This is taken from the New York Times report:

“Volkswagen took a lead role in the study. Company engineers supervised the installation of a treadmill that would allow the vehicles to run on rollers while equipment sucked exhaust from the tailpipes.

“The gas was then diluted and fed into chambers containing the monkeys. To keep the animals calm during the four hours they breathed fumes, lab workers set up a television showing cartoons.

“They like to watch cartoons,” Jake McDonald, the Lovelace scientist who oversaw the experiments, said in a sworn deposition taken last year as part of a lawsuit by Volkswagen diesel owners seeking damages beyond those provided for in a class action settlement.”

Going further, the same scientist claimed under oath that the monkey study had been incomplete and that the client had urged them to continue their work into 2017. That was despite VW knowing the Beetle used in the experiments contained a ‘cheat’ device.

This looks set to be as big a disaster for VW which is copping the majority of heat with BMW and Daimler somewhat free of attack. VW admitted in a statement on Monday that some employees in its legal department, technical team, and at VW of America were aware of the tests, yet it denied the tests had been discussed at a Board level. German media outlet Bild said it had seen an internal email suggesting that some senior managers were aware of the design of the monkey study.

A petition organized by Care2 has already attracted more than 30,000 signatures calling for VW to vow to never again test on animals, with no mention of either BMW or Daimler, and to donate to an organisation that rescues research animals.

Interestingly, Germany had banned testing on animals, for cosmetic purposes, in 1986 – the first country in the world to do so. In 2009, the ban extended to the ingredients used and not just the finished product. Europe led the ban on cosmetics tested on animals which affected US makers where no ban on animal testing exists. Australia will finally ban testing on animals for cosmetic purposes in July this year.

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.

Question: Is this a case of guilt by association? Can VW recover from this latest controversy?


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober