The New York Times)
By JACK EWINGJAN. 25, 2018
FRANKFURT — In 2014, as evidence mounted about the harmful effects of diesel exhaust on human health, scientists in an Albuquerque laboratory conducted an unusual experiment: Ten monkeys squatted in airtight chambers, watching cartoons for entertainment as they inhaled fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle.
German automakers had financed the experiment in an attempt to prove that diesel vehicles with the latest technology were cleaner than the smoky models of old. But the American scientists conducting the test were unaware of one critical fact: The Beetle provided by Volkswagen had been rigged to produce pollution levels that were far less harmful in the lab than they were on the road.
The results were being deliberately manipulated.
The Albuquerque monkey research, which has not been previously reported, is a new dimension in a global emissions scandal that has already forced Volkswagen to plead guilty to federal fraud and conspiracy charges in the United States and to pay more than $26 billion in fines.
The company admitted to installing software in vehicles that enabled them to cheat on emissions tests. But legal proceedings and government records show that Volkswagen and other European automakers were also engaged in a prolonged, well-financed effort to produce academic research that they hoped would influence political debate and preserve tax privileges for diesel fuel.
The details of the Albuquerque experiment have been disclosed in a lawsuit brought against Volkswagen in the United States, offering a rare window into the world of industry-backed academic research. The organization that commissioned the study, the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, received all of its funding from Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW. It shut down last year amid controversy over its work.
The organization, known by its German initials, E.U.G.T., did not do any research itself. Rather, it hired scientists to conduct studies that might defend the use of diesel. It sponsored research that challenged a 2012 decision by the World Health Organization to classify diesel exhaust as a carcinogen. It financed studies that cast doubt on whether banning older diesel vehicles from cities reduced pollution. It produced a skeptical assessment of data showing that diesel pollution far exceeded permitted levels in cities like Barcelona, Spain.
Industries like food, chemicals and pharmaceuticals have a long history of supporting research that advances their political agendas. But the automakers’ group consistently promoted the industry’s claim that diesel was environmentally friendly — a claim now undercut by the Volkswagen scandal.