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Volkswagen Emissions Scandal May Increase European Mortality Rates

ByAnnette ChoiNOVA NextNOVA Next

Exposure to excess NOx emissions may lead to premature death.

The lingering repercussions of the Volkswagen emission scandal may be more dire than we originally thought.

Scientists now estimate that 1,200 people in Europe will die prematurely as a result of the excess nitrogen oxides (NO x ) emissions from the 2.6 million affected cars that were sold in Germany alone. The team of researchers from MIT and Harvard published their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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The Volkswagen scandal erupted in September 2015, when the auto manufacturer admitted to rigging 11 million of its diesel cars worldwide with a software that cheated emissions tests. The software activated equipment that reduced emissions only when the vehicle sensed that it was being tested. At all other times, the diesel cars emitted more than four times the legal limit of NO x , a group of harmful air pollutants.

Diesel cars burn fuel at much higher temperatures than vehicles that run on gasoline, and therefore, produce higher levels of NO x. Exposure to NO x has been shown to cause cardiopulmonary and respiratory disease.

To predict the long-term effects of the additional exposure, the scientists combined data on measurements of driving behaviors in Germany with emissions from Volkswagen cars. They also developed a simulation of the atmosphere, modeling how NO x travels over long distances.

They estimate that 500 people will die prematurely in Germany, each losing up to a decade of life, and 700 in surrounding countries like Poland, France, and the Czech Republic.

And while the latest Volkswagen diesels have improved their emissions significantly, there’s still the matter of the offending vehicles that are still on the road.

Here’s Steph Yin, reporting for the New York Times:

Andreas Meurer, a spokesman for Volkswagen, said that investigations by the German, French and British governments had found that emissions from the company’s vehicles “are comparable with, and in many cases even better, than those of our competitors.”

While that may be true of Volkswagen’s most recent generation of cars, the company can still significantly cut emissions by removing test recognition software from older models, [lead author Guillaume] Chossière said. Such software has been in the United States, but still occupies a in Europe.

“A natural next step for us is to focus on excess emissions by all manufacturers,” Mr. Chossière added. “Europe has very severe air quality issues, and enforcing standards in diesel cars should be considered as a first step toward cleaner air.”

The scientists predict that by recalling and repairing the tampered vehicles to meet European emissions standards by the end of 2017, Volkswagen could prevent an additional 2,600 premature deaths and save $4.1 billion in health costs.

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