Illegal VW Diesel Emissions: Tallying Public Health Damage


2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Enlarge Photo

It's clear that the Volkswagen TDI diesel cars equipped with illegal "defeat device" software have contributed to a significant amount of extra air pollution.

Some of the affected models were found to emit up to 35 times the legal levels of nitrogen oxides.

But how does that looks when viewed in terms of public health?

DON'T MISS: Volkswagen Diesel Pollution: How Dangerous To The Public, Your Family? (Oct 2015)

It's possible excess emissions from Volkswagen TDI cars could contribute to 60 premature deaths, according to a study from MIT and Harvard published in October, about a month after VW's cheating was first announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the study claims 60 people will die 10 to 20 years prematurely as a direct result of excess emissions allowed by Volkswagen "defeat devices" in the 482,000 cars equipped with 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines.

Researchers claim that if cars are recalled before the end of 2016, 130 additional early deaths may be avoided.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Enlarge Photo
On the other hand, if the problem isn't dealt with relatively soon, the excess emissions could cause an additional 140 premature deaths.

In addition to the increase in premature deaths, the study claims VW TDI emissions will directly contribute to 31 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 34 hospital admissions "involving respiratory and cardiac conditions."

Affected individuals will experience 120,000 "minor restricted activity days"--including work absences--and 210,000 "lower respiratory symptom days," the study says.

ALSO SEE: Diesel Car Emissions Still Killing Thousands, Latest Research Says (May 2014)

All told, the negative health impact of VW TDI emissions could generate $450 million in additional health expenses and other social costs, according to the study.

But it also claims that if cars are recalled before the end of this year, it could save up to $840 million in health costs.

Note that these figures do not include emissions from the 85,000 Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen vehicles with 3.0-liter V-6 engines, that were later found to have defeat devices as well.

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

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Researchers used emissions data compiled by West Virginia University--one of the institutions that uncovered VW's cheating--and applied it to sales data for the affected models, and a method of mapping health risks based on atmospheric conditions and the chemistry of the pollutants.

At the time the study was published, Steven Barrett--an MIT professor and lead author of the paper--said that the number of premature deaths per kilometer driven is about 20 percent of the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents.

Months later, Volkswagen appears no closer to beginning a U.S. recall of the affected diesel vehicles.

MORE: VW Submits V-6 Diesel-Update Plan For Audi, Porsche, VW Models

An initial proposal for the 482,000 cars with four-cylinder engines was rejected by the EPA and California Air Resources Board last month. Regulators said it lacked sufficient detail.

The company submitted another proposal for the 85,000 V-6 models earlier this month, just barely making a deadline set by regulators.

That proposal is still under review.

[hat tip: George K]

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