You might remember a few years ago when Volkswagen (VW) got busted for cheating on their diesel emissions tests. Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now studied the effect on public health caused by the levels of extra air pollution from the cars sold in Germany.
The new study in Environmental Research Letters estimates that 1,200 people in Europe will die up to a decade early as a result of excess emissions from the cars with “defeat devices” sold in Germany. The same team previously estimated that there would be 60 premature deaths in the US due to excess emissions from the 482,000 affected vehicles sold in the US. Most of these will be caused by fine particulates and nitric oxides (NOx), which have been linked to cardiopulmonary and respiratory disease.
They also argue that if Volkswagen recalled all affected vehicles and met European standards by the end of 2017, this could stop the premature deaths of 2,600 people and save 4.1 billion Euros in healthcare costs.
Volkswagen Group is the biggest car manufacturer in the world. Approximately 2.6 million affected cars were sold in Germany, 482,000 affected vehicles were sold in the US, and around 11 million sold worldwide.
This whole saga erupted in September 2015 when Volkswagen was trying to push their diesel cars as “low emission”. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US found that many of their cars had “defeat devices” installed in them. It was then revealed cars might be affected worldwide, including models such as the Jetta, Beetle, Golf, Passat, and the VW-manufactured Audi A3.
Essentially, the engines were equipped with software that monitors their performance. When the cars were undergoing an emissions test, a "defeat device" kicked in and put the vehicles into a different mode where the engine pumped out fewer emissions. Outside of this situation, the cars performed normally and emitted NOx pollutants at levels around four times the acceptable European limit.
The company suffered numerous lawsuits, huge embarrassment, and massive recalls. Unfortunately, it has now become apparent the problem is not just their own.
"It seems unlikely that Volkswagen is the only company with issues with excess emissions," co-author Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said in a statement. "We don't know if other manufacturers have these defeat devices, but there is already evidence that many other vehicles in practice emit more than the applicable test-stand limit value. So we're trying to do this for all diesel vehicles."