German Automakers Tested Emissions On Live Subjects

Jan 30, 2018
Originally published on January 30, 2018 6:38 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

German automakers face another scandal over diesel-powered vehicles. You may recall that Volkswagen admitted faking pollution tests to make its cars seem cleaner. Now we know that a research institute founded by three big German automakers tested diesel pollution on live subjects. The subjects were 25 human volunteers and 10 monkeys. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler - that's the owner of Mercedes-Benz - all issued statements that either condemn or distance themselves from studies done on their behalf by an organization called the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector. Now, the study's intended goal was to prove that the then-new diesel technology was clean. The monkeys watched cartoons while inhaling fumes from a Volkswagen Beetle, and the human subjects were in a separate group where they were exposed to the pollutant nitrogen dioxide. Art Caplan is head of ethics at New York University's medical school. He says these studies raise eyebrows because of Germany's history of testing on live subjects during World War II.

ART CAPLAN: We expect the highest standards to be followed there because of that history. History counts. It makes a difference to our assessment of the morality of what's being done.

GLINTON: An interesting wrinkle in this story is that the Volkswagen being tested was rigged to appear cleaner than it was. Caplan says there are cases where testing on human and primate subjects may be necessary, but...

CAPLAN: You better be following the highest possible standards. You better address the question accurately. And in the case of humans, you better have a very solid informed consent. You better be ready to handle any adverse outcomes that do occur.

GLINTON: A statement by Daimler is representative of those from the other companies. It says the research contradicts their values and ethical principles. It goes on to say that they are appalled by the extent of the studies and their implementation and condemns the experiments in the strongest terms. All three companies plus the German government say they're investigating how these studies were allowed in the first place. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

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