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VW suspends lobbyist over diesel emissions study

Beetlejuice: Ten cynomolgus macaque monkeys were forced to squat in airtight chambers while watching cartoons for entertainment and inhaling fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle.

Thomas Steg voluntarily suspended from Volkswagen for role in monkey diesel tests

31 Jan 2018

VOLKSWAGEN Group head of external relations and sustainability Thomas Steg was suspended overnight for his role in the diesel emissions study involving monkey test subjects that was partly funded by the German car-maker.

Alongside Daimler AG, BMW Group and parts supplier Bosch, Volkswagen Group financed an independent institute, dubbed the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT), that attempted to demonstrate that new diesel cars are not harmful to health and cleaner than their predecessors.

The EUGT commissioned the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI) in 2014 to conduct a study at its laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which used 10 cynomolgus macaque monkeys as test subjects.

As previously reported, these animals were forced to squat in airtight chambers while watching cartoons for entertainment and inhaling fumes from a diesel late-model Volkswagen Beetle and a 1999 Ford pick-up.

A statement released by Volkswagen Group overnight confirmed Mr Steg’s suspension and revealed the automotive marque’s plans to “intensively” review the matter.

“We are currently in the process of investigating the work of the EUGT, which was dissolved in 2017, and drawing all the necessary consequences,” Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Mueller said in the statement.

“Mr Steg has declared that he will assume full responsibility. I respect his decision.”

During a meeting with the Volkswagen Group board of management, Mr Steg volunteered to be suspended for his part in the incident and will remain so until the probe into the study is completed.

In the interim, Mr Steg’s duties will be assumed by Volkswagen Group head of international policy for external relations and government relations Jens Hanefield on an acting basis.

Occurring prior to the dieselgate saga, Daimler AG, BMW Group and the LRRI scientists were unaware that the Beetle used in the monkey tests was fitted with an emissions defeat device which manipulated results by emitting pollution levels lower in the laboratory than on the road, according to The New York Times.

Motivation for the study came from the German trio’s desire to maintain European tax breaks for diesel fuel, which were threatened by a 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) finding that classified the emissions as a carcinogen, according to legal proceedings and documents.

WHO research showed that exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a diesel emission, “can increase symptoms of bronchitis and asthma, as well as lead to respiratory infections and reduced lung function and growth”.

A 2017 European Parliament report reiterated this, finding that approximately 72,000 people died prematurely in Europe in 2012 as a result of such pollution.

However, as mentioned, the EUGT was disbanded last year, with unavailable monkey test results leading to the opposing diesel emissions study never being completed or published.

Both Daimler AG and BMW Group announced this week that they will pursue separate internal investigations into their involvement with the EUGT but moved to distance themselves from the study.

Emerging in September 2015, the dieselgate scandal has already resulted in Volkswagen Group being fined $US26 billion ($A32.1 billion) after pleading guilty to federal conspiracy and fraud charges in the United States, with this latest episode unfolding in ongoing related lawsuit.

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