Volkswagen's emissions cheat to cause 60 premature deaths in US, study says

October 29, 2015 by Jennifer Chu
Workers inspect a car on the production line in a Volkswagen factory in Poznan, Poland.

Volkswagen's use of software to evade emissions standards in more than 482,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. will directly contribute to 60 premature deaths across the country, a new MIT-led study finds.

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that the German automaker had developed and installed "defeat devices" (actually software) in light-duty sold between 2008 and 2015. This software was designed to sense when a car was undergoing an emissions test, and only then engage the vehicle's full emissions-control system, which would otherwise be disabled under normal driving conditions—a cheat that allows the vehicles to emit 40 times more emissions than permitted by the Clean Air Act.

That amount of excess pollution, multiplied by the number of affected vehicles sold in the U.S. and extrapolated over population distributions and health risk factors across the country, will have significant effects on public health, the study finds.

Assessing health outcomes

According to the study, conducted by researchers at MIT and Harvard University and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, excess emissions from Volkswagen's defeat devices will cause around 60 people in the U.S. to die 10 to 20 years prematurely. If the automaker recalls every affected vehicle by the end of 2016, more than 130 additional early deaths may be avoided. If, however, Volkswagen does not order a recall in the U.S., the excess emissions, compounding in the future, will cause 140 people to die early.

In addition to the increase in , the researchers estimate that Volkswagen's excess emissions will contribute directly to 31 cases of chronic bronchitis and 34 hospital admissions involving respiratory and cardiac conditions. They calculate that individuals will experience about 120,000 minor restricted activity days, including work absences, and about 210,000 lower-respiratory symptom days.

In total, Volkswagen's excess emissions will generate $450 million in health expenses and other social costs, the study projects. But a total vehicle recall by the end of 2016 may save up to $840 million in further health and social costs.

Steven Barrett, the lead author of the paper and an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, says the new data may help regulatory officials better estimate the effects of Volkswagen's actions.

"It seemed to be an important issue in which we could bring to bear impartial information to help quantify the human implications of the Volkswagen emissions issue," Barrett says. "The main motivation is to inform the public and inform the developing regulatory situation."

Cheating (and) death

To estimate the health effects of Volkswagen's excess emissions, Barrett and his colleagues at MIT and Harvard based their calculations on measurements by researchers at West Virginia University, who found that the vehicles produced up to 40 times the emissions allowed by law. They then calculated the average amount that each vehicle would be driven over its lifetime, and combined these results with sales data between 2008 and 2015 to estimate of the total excess emissions during this period.

The group then calculated the resulting emissions under three scenarios: the current scenario, in which 482,000 vehicles have already emitted excess emissions into the atmosphere; a scenario in which Volkswagen recalls every affected vehicle by the end of 2016; and a future in which there is no recall, and every affected vehicle remains on the road, continuing to emit excess pollution over the course of its lifetime.

The group then estimated the health effects under each emissions scenario, using a method they developed to map emissions estimates to public exposure to fine particulate matter and ozone. Diesel vehicles emit nitrogen oxides, which react in the atmosphere to form and ozone. Barrett's approach essentially maps emissions estimates to population health risk, accounting for atmospheric transport and chemistry of the pollutants.

"We all have risk factors in our lives, and [excess emissions] is another small risk factor," Barrett explains. "If you take into account the additional risk due to the excess Volkswagen emissions, then roughly 60 people have died or will die early, and on average, a decade or more early."

Barrett says that, per kilometer driven, this number is about 20 percent of the number of deaths caused by road transport accidents.

"So it's about the same order of magnitude, just from these excess emissions," Barrett says. "If nothing's done, these excess emissions will cause around another 140 deaths. However, two-thirds of the total deaths could be avoided if the recalls could be done quickly, in the course of the next year."

Explore further: VW says newer motor may also have had trick software (Update)

More information: Steven R H Barrett et al. Impact of the Volkswagen emissions control defeat device on US public health, Environmental Research Letters (2015). DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/11/114005

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34 comments

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qquax
4 / 5 (12) Oct 29, 2015
In other news, the only car I could rent last Christmas in Laguna Beach was a Prius, and it almost killed me because it was so boring to drive.
plasmasrevenge
4 / 5 (16) Oct 29, 2015
Nobody actually died as a direct consequence of this, and if scientists want to be taken seriously, they will stop torturing statistics in this manner.
nilbud
4 / 5 (13) Oct 29, 2015
The regulations were not for the purposes of health they were protectionism for US car manufacturers who were panicking that euro diesels would wipe them out. So this sophistry about public health is pure FOX. Every single pick up truck produces vastly more pollutants than a Volkswagen.
pinero50
4.3 / 5 (11) Oct 29, 2015
How this reactionary drivel passes for science is beyond me. They've deliberately manipulated the statistics to create a headline.
rrrander
3.3 / 5 (7) Oct 29, 2015
Good riddance. I despise diesel vehicles. Who wants to drive behind those smoke-sprewing rattle-traps? Diesel is needed for trucks for torque, it is NOT needed in cars.
Returners
2.1 / 5 (11) Oct 29, 2015
"Cars don't kill people. People kill people."

Isn't that what they do with guns?
Edenlegaia
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 29, 2015
Good riddance. I despise diesel vehicles. Who wants to drive behind those smoke-sprewing rattle-traps? Diesel is needed for trucks for torque, it is NOT needed in cars.


"Who wants to drive them"? Those who can get a cheaper carburant at the pump and like endurant vehicles. Despise what you want, people stil have their reasons to drive them.
Doug_Huffman
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 29, 2015
Nobody actually died as a direct consequence of this, and if scientists want to be taken seriously, they will stop torturing statistics in this manner.
No scientists were involved. The epithet scientist impeaches the subject. Is a politician witch doctor a scientist?

Science is Popper falsifiable. Technology is vastly verified ad-hockery.

I recently traded my 13 y.o. 50 mpg VW TDI for a BMW X5 xDrive 35d which nearly 300 hp struggles to 25 mpg.
MR166
3 / 5 (12) Oct 29, 2015

And then they wonder why anyone would doubt the veracity of those scientists that are pushing global warming. There is no search for truth any more only a search for funding and political power.

Well I ask you, how many lives did a car that gets 50 MPG save? Oh, they did not consider that did they!
MR166
3.7 / 5 (12) Oct 29, 2015
So I ask you how many people does your home, oil fired, heating system kill a year? They both use about the same amount of fuel except that there are millions of more homes than VWs. Perhaps homeowners should be jailed.
krundoloss
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2015
They really tried hard to come up with every single possible negative effect of VW emissions, didn't they? This reads like some lawyer and some statistician joined forces to make us want to roll our eyes.

When I saw the title, I thought there was some unventilated parking garage somewhere, where people actually died due to the emissions.

There is no doubt that what VW did was the definition of corporate greed and corruption. Money over everything! They should make the emissions test randomized, or otherwise undetectable by the vehicle to avoid similar actions in the future.
SamB
3.4 / 5 (10) Oct 29, 2015
How this reactionary drivel passes for science is beyond me. They've deliberately manipulated the statistics to create a headline.


I agree. This headline sounds like it was written by climate alarmists. We need to stop this headline gibberish.
jeffensley
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 29, 2015
Really? You guys that this was a valuable use of your intellect?
gkam
1.7 / 5 (12) Oct 29, 2015
"So I ask you how many people does your home, oil fired, heating system kill a year?"
--------------------------------

Apparently you are ignorant of the topic, which is nitrogen oxides. They are triple-bonded, and need high temperatures and pressures to form. They do not form in heating systems, but in the high compression conditions in Diesel engines.
Tangent2
4.2 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2015
"So I ask you how many people does your home, oil fired, heating system kill a year?"
--------------------------------

Apparently you are ignorant of the topic, which is nitrogen oxides. They are triple-bonded, and need high temperatures and pressures to form. They do not form in heating systems, but in the high compression conditions in Diesel engines.


NOx can be produced by any fuel that burns hot enough. Automobiles, for example, produce NOx when they burn gasoline.

Source: http://www.fossil...ct3.html
rgw
2 / 5 (4) Oct 29, 2015
Good riddance. I despise diesel vehicles. Who wants to drive behind those smoke-sprewing rattle-traps? Diesel is needed for trucks for torque, it is NOT needed in cars.


A direct pronouncement from God! I am in awe!.
viko_mx
2.5 / 5 (8) Oct 30, 2015
"Volkswagen's use of software to evade emissions standards in more than 482,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. will directly contribute to 60 premature deaths across the country, a new MIT-led study finds."

Such a statement is so abstract and frivolous, that it is surprising that is ever published.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (9) Oct 30, 2015
Apparently you are ignorant of the topic, which is nitrogen oxides. They are triple-bonded, and need high temperatures and pressures to form. They do not form in heating systems, but in the high compression conditions in Diesel engines.
More bullshit out-his-ass as Tangent2 noted.

"NOx gases are formed whenever combustion occurs in the presence of nitrogen – as in an air-breathing engine; they also are produced naturally by lightning. In atmospheric chemistry, the term means the total concentration of NO and NO2. NOx gases react to form smog and acid rain as well as being central to the formation of tropospheric ozone."

"Road traffic is the principal outdoor source of nitrogen dioxide. The most important indoor sources include tobacco smoke and gas-, wood-, oil-, kerosene- and coal-burning appliances such as stoves, ovens, space and water heaters and fireplaces..."

-Apparently (to everybody) you are just plain ignorant.
gkam
2.6 / 5 (10) Oct 30, 2015
Sorry, ottoids, although traces can be found in many reactions, it takes high temperatures and pressures for significant nitrogen oxides to form and remain, the worst of which are triple-bonded and difficult to break. Your wiki hunt just mislead you again.

dschlink
4 / 5 (4) Oct 31, 2015
60 deaths total over the period of 2009-2015 is not 20% of 30,800 road deaths per year. I can only assume their other calculations are pure garbage.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 31, 2015
Sorry, ottoids, although traces can be found in many reactions, it takes high temperatures and pressures for significant nitrogen oxides to form and remain, the worst of which are triple-bonded and difficult to break. Your wiki hunt just mislead you again
Of course you disagree with it because you didnt know it. This is an indication of how sick you are.

And it wasnt wiki.
http://www.ncbi.n...K138707/

It was the world health organization. But hey - if you know more about batteries than elon musk, you must know more about pollution than the WHO. I bet nobody there has an MS in life experiences.

Or maybe there are and they just lied about it like you.
AGreatWhopper
2 / 5 (4) Oct 31, 2015
The trolls are all going to be buying VW now. It's their wet dream; combines all their brain damaged thoughts in one neat little package.

Using the atmosphere as a toilette.
Greed.
Fraud.
Failing to take responsibility for mortality and morbidity.
Blank Check Information Technology
A Liberal Icon

TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 31, 2015
"The most prominent sources of NO
2 are internal combustion engines,[12] thermal power stations and, to a lesser extent, pulp mills. Butane gas heaters and stoves are also sources. The excess air required for complete combustion of fuels in these processes introduces nitrogen into the combustion reactions at high temperatures and produces nitrogen oxides (NO
x). Limiting NO
x production demands the precise control of the amount of air used in combustion. In households, kerosene heaters and gas heaters[13] are sources of nitrogen dioxide..."
http://www3.epa.g...noxides/

-Ya know, just saying something doesnt mean that its true. And in your case, because of your shameful record here, when you say something its safe to assume you just made it up.

Which in this case, you did.
antigoracle
2.7 / 5 (7) Oct 31, 2015
Using the atmosphere as a toilette.

Someone has been using your head as a toilette.
Yes, I'm trying to fathom your constant spewing of excrement, on this forum, as it goes beyond stupidity.
Lex Talonis
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 01, 2015
I like the all in brawling, especially everything I write, as I am so intelligent, everything I write is awesome.

And the car? So fucking what? The AMERICAN military / industrial complex, generated 50, billion trillion tons of pollution and there are only 20 million dead people.

Proving that genocide for oil is safer than a VW golf diesel.
geokstr
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 01, 2015
The AMERICAN military / industrial complex, generated 50, billion trillion tons of pollution and there are only 20 million dead people.


Guess what? The AMERICAN military could be smaller by orders of magnitude if it weren't the only defense we have for freedom against the malevolent ideological pollution of Marxism and all its evil spawn, which has already cost 100 million fatalities of its own people via execution, forced starvation, and slave labor camps. All for the thoughtcrime of disagreeing with their Communist overlords.

That's in defense of YOUR freedom too, something you obviously take for granted. Of course, you probably went to schools where they teach Marxist revisionism, and blame the US as the Great Satan, so it's not your fault you don't know any better.

Orwell only got two things wrong: the year and the ethnicity of big bro'. Tell me, is it doubleplusgood or badthink this week to believe we've always been at war with EastAsia?
SamB
3 / 5 (4) Nov 01, 2015
Nobody actually died as a direct consequence of this, and if scientists want to be taken seriously, they will stop torturing statistics in this manner.


Well said plasmasrevenge. These so called 'studies' are rampant in Physics Org.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (9) Nov 01, 2015
Sounds like we ought to arm geokstr and send him off to war. Many who actually went are eager to see how he does.
vlisivka
5 / 5 (2) Nov 01, 2015
Nobody actually died as a direct consequence of this, and if scientists want to be taken seriously, they will stop torturing statistics in this manner.


Scientists has need to compare harm and Potential Human Death is commonly used to compare potential harm or various risks.
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 01, 2015
Somebody tell otto that not all nitrogen oxides are alike. The ones about which he speaks are not triple-bonded like those in high-compression engines.

My god, this goober will stretch, bend, fabricate, or pervert anything to get even with me for beating him at his gotcha game.
ScottyB
not rated yet Nov 02, 2015
Its articles like this that make me question the validity of other articles on Physorg.
This shouldn't even have been published, their online editor needs a good talking to!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 02, 2015
tell otto that not all nitrogen oxides are alike
Well apparently you didnt know this when you said
Apparently you are ignorant of the topic, which is nitrogen oxides. They are triple-bonded, and need high temperatures and pressures to form
-? It appears that you thought they WERE until I exposed your ignorance

And then you did a little research and then realized you were wrong, and then tried to pretend... I don't know, what? That I said what you in fact said?

George kamburoff - liar, fact-forger, posturer, pretender... psychopath. IMO.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Nov 02, 2015
they do not form in heating systems
They do form in heating systems.
but in the high compression conditions
Compression has nothing to do with it. If you knew anything about the subject you would know this.

Pretending is not the same as knowing, you know?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Nov 02, 2015
Its articles like this that make me question the validity of other articles on Physorg
@ScottyB
for starters: PO is a pop-sci clearing house for articles and information. this means that sites that are tied to PO to promote science (like some Journals or web-sites) will simply auto-post articles to PO

Secondly: as noted by vlisivka, scientists regularly do assessments of risk
you can see a lot of this WRT leaded fuels, immunizations VS non-immunization, climate change, pandemic outbreaks or other medical maladies, space research, etc

it isn't a matter of poor anything
It is a matter of good science and forward thinking, prediction and possibilities

also note: read section 4.2
http://iopscience...1/114005

the study is free: all you have to do is read it
(and remember: the article is NOT the same thing as the study)

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