How do we know how much oxygen is in diesel engine exhaust?
Holocaust deniers claim:
Diesel engine exhaust contains 18 percent oxygen so a human being cannot die from asphyxiation (lack of oxygen) from exposure to diesel fumes and the oxygen would actually “keep trapped victims alive.”
The facts are:
A scientific study shows that it is possible to adjust a diesel engine to produce a very low content of oxygen, which in and of itself, outside of carbon monoxide poisoning, would be fatal.
Friedrich Berg, an American Holocaust denier, correctly identifies that, “The principal danger to life from Diesel exhaust arises . . . from the combined effects of CO and reduced oxygen.” He then contradictorily claims that there is so much oxygen in diesel engine exhaust that it would actually be “an arrangement to keep trapped victims alive.”
What happens when a human being is deprived of oxygen?
The atmosphere at sea level contains about 21 percent oxygen.
If the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere drops to between 10 percent and 14 percent the person experiences impaired judgment and motor skills. If the amount of oxygen drops to between 6 percent and 10 percent the person experiences nausea and vomiting, loss of consciousness and/or lapses into a rigid, glassy-eyed coma. If the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere drops below 6 percent the person experiences convulsions and death.
How much oxygen does diesel engine exhaust contain?
A 1941 peer-reviewed study was conducted by two engineers, Holtz and Elliott, who ran a diesel engine in several different fuel-air ratios and studied the composition of the exhaust. Holtz and Elliot were able to produce diesel exhaust that contained less than 1 percent oxygen. They achieved this result by adjusting the fuel pump so it injected more fuel that the standard specifications. They also achieved levels of carbon monoxide of 6 percent, which in and of itself is lethal.
Berg includes a graph from the Holtz and Elliott study that clearly shows this rapid drop in the oxygen content yet he insists that the diesel exhaust always contains 18 percent oxygen.
By Lucignolobrescia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Berg’s claim that there is always too much oxygen in diesel engine exhaust is false. The very study Berg cites as proof that diesel engine exhaust always contains 18 percent oxygen, shows that the exact opposite is possible if the engine is modified and run slightly outside the manufacturer’s specifications.
The key to the ability to kill a person with diesel engine exhaust is that, in addition to flooding the atmosphere with a soup of toxic gases including carbon monoxide, it robs the atmosphere of oxygen. The victim suffocates from carbon monoxide poisoning or from lack of oxygen, or a combination of both.
Berg’s study appears, on the surface, to be based on scientific data but he distorts, manipulates and omits evidence to arrive at his foregone conclusion that diesel engine exhaust cannot kill people. Berg’s study—like the Leuchter Report that supposedly “proves” that the gas chambers at Auschwitz did not exist—is junk science. Both studies show how important it is to approach “scientifically” presented data critically.
 Friedrich Berg, “The Diesel Gas Chambers: Myth within a Myth” (“Carbon Dioxide”) at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v05/v05p-15_Berg.html.
 Friedrich Berg, “Pat Buchanan and the Diesel Exhaust Controversy” at www.nazigassings.com/PatBuchanan.htm.
 Y. Haldane and H.W. Haggard, Noxious Gases (Reinhold Publishing, 1943), pp. 144-45 and J.S. Haldane and J.G. Priestly, Respiration (Yale University Press), pp. 223-24 as cited in Berg, “Diesel Gas Chambers” (“Toxic Effects of Carbon Monoxide”) at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v05/v05p-15_Berg.html.
 John C. Holtz and M.A. Elliott, “The Significance of Diesel-Exhaust-Gas Analysis,” Transactions of the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), 1941, 63(2) at http://cybra.lodz.pl/Content/6253/v63no2_1941.pdf. (See pdf pages 18-26, page 98 of the original article.)
 Friedrich Berg, “Diesel Gas Chambers: Ideal for Torture—Absurd for Murder,” (“6. The Diesel Engine, 6.1 Introduction”) at www.nazigassings.com/dieselgaschambera.html.