Last Thursday, the New York Times released an article that uncovered an even more heinous layer of the Volkswagen diesel scandal. Following concerns surrounding the adverse health aspects of diesel exhaust, scientists funded by Volkswagen, BMW, and Daimler (owner of Mercedes-Benz) conducted an unusual experiment: Ten monkeys squatted in airtight chambers, watching cartoons for entertainment as they inhaled fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle.
The three German automakers, as well as parts supplier Bosch, established the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, or E.U.G.T. in German initials. The research group was originally created to defend the use of diesel in non-commercial vehicles, but instead of doing research itself, the now-defunct organization would use funding from the auto industry titans to hire scientists to conduct experiments that might defend the use of diesel. Before the controversial 2014 experiment in question, the E.U.G.T. also sponsored research in 2012 that challenged a decision by the World Health Organization to classify diesel exhaust as a carcinogen, as well as funded studies that questioned whether banning diesel vehicles from cities actually improves air quality.
In 2014, amid initial suspicions that Volkswagen TDI diesel vehicles were cheating emissions tests, E.U.G.T. hired Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, a non-government research organization based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to conduct an experiment comparing the harmful effects of the exhaust fumes of a diesel Volkswagen Beetle versus those of an older diesel pickup truck. The Lovelace Institute were given guidelines to carry out their research, the most concerning is that Volkswagen officials were to be given complete access to ongoing, uncomplete research, rather than receiving the results after it had been completed.
On paper, the experiment was originally designed to test the noxious fumes on human subjects riding exercise bikes, but ultimately the researchers swapped the human subjects for ten monkeys in airtight chambers. The chambers were fed exhaust fumes through a series of tubes connected to each car. The cars ran for four hours each, exposing the monkeys to harmful nitrous oxides, pollutants found in diesel exhaust fumes which can irritate lung tissue and exacerbate asthma conditions, and, in conditions of prolonged exposure, can even lead to death.
The Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute carried out the research but had not been told about the emissions test defeat device equipped in the Volkswagen TDI diesel vehicles, including the Beetle that had been used for testing. Upon finding out that they had been deceived by Volkswagen, the Lovelace Institute discontinued all emissions research, and the results have never been published.
Volkswagen is now again facing the ire of the public following the publication of the New York Times article, as well as the release of the Netflix exposé Dirty Money, a documentary series focused on corporate greed and corruption. The pilot episode, titled “Hard NOx,” focuses on the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal and is directed by Alex Gibney, director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
Even amid scandal, Volkswagen has (for the time being) realized its goal of becoming the biggest European auto corporation, seemingly unphased by the billion-dollar settlements and court rulings. Only time will tell if this new revelation will affect the auto giant, or if corporate greed will go unchecked once again.
Until then, go watch Dirty Money. It’s really good.
(Image courtesy of http://www.thesun.co.uk)