The director of The FRAME Alternatives Laboratory has spoken out against revelations that Volkswagen, the world’s biggest carmaker, helped to fund experiments in which monkeys and humans breathed in diesel car fumes for hours at a time.
The experiments were commissioned by the European Research Group of Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT), a body funded by Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.
The story broke in the New York Times, revealing that the tests, carried out in May 2014 by the New Mexico-based Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI), involved locking 10 Java monkeys in small airtight chambers for four hours at a time.
The animals were left to watch cartoons as they breathed in diesel fumes from a VW Beetle. The ultimate aim of the tests was to prove that the pollutant load of nitrogen oxide car emissions from diesel motors had measurably decreased, thanks to modern cleaning technology.
In a second round of tests, the animals were forced to breathe in the fumes of a Ford F-250 used for the purposes of comparison, because the car was an older model with apparently less sophisticated filter technology.
According to reports in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the broadcaster NDR, the monkeys were subsequently anaesthetised and intubated, so their blood could be examined for inflammatory markers. Their lungs were then washed out and their bronchial tubes examined.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported the experiments were also carried out on 25 young and healthy human beings.
Dr Andrew Bennett said: “The experimental design of these tests was seriously flawed because an artificially high dose of the fumes was given to the monkeys. This is an inaccurate representation of what happens to humans, in terms of diesel fumes exposure, in everyday life.
“The tests constitute an appalling case of bad science which proves little of value about the effect of diesel car fumes.
“It seems that random sample sizes were used, which were in any case far too small to produce a scientifically significant outcome.
“These tests were unjustifiable and caused unnecessary stress and discomfort to the animals and humans involved in them.”
All three car makers sought to distance themselves from the story, with VW admitting responsibility.
VW said: “We know that the scientific methods used by EUGT were wrong and apologise sincerely for this.”
VW’s supervisory board said it will conduct a full investigation, calling the experiments “utterly incomprehensible”.
The car maker also suspended its head of external relations and sustainability after he admitted that he had known about the experiments.
Daimler, manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz cars, said: “We are appalled by the extent of the [EUGT] studies and their implementation .
“We condemn the experiments in the strongest terms.”
Udo Hartmann, head of environmental protection at Daimler, and Frank Hansen, BMW’s head of urban mobility, were suspended pending internal investigations.