From: MIT News
Published October 29, 2015 08:01 AM

Assessing the health and economic consequences of Dieselgate

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 diesel vehicles 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.

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 premature deaths, 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.

VW badge image via Shutterstock.

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