According to a report in the New York Times, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimate that 1,200 people in Europe will die prematurely — each losing as much as a decade of life — because of excess emissions resulting from the Volkswagen emissions scandal. And that is just from the 2.6 million affected cars sold in Germany alone. The full range of impacted vehicles is the 11 million diesel cars Volkswagen sold worldwide between 2008 and 2015. All of them apparently contained the special software designed to cheat emissions tests by ensuring emissions-control systems only operated when the car was being tested. At all other times, the cars operated without emissions control, releasing more than four times the levels of harmful nitrogen oxide air pollutants into the air.
The MIT researchers based their calculations on how far the Nitrogen Oxide emissions travel and how much extra emissions people likely were breathing in across Europe. They then estimated increased mortality because of cardiopulmonary and respiratory diseases that could result from the polluted air. They projected roughly 500 early deaths in Germany and roughly 700 in neighboring countries like Poland, France and the Czech Republic. They also predicted that with appropriate recalls and remediation this year, Volkswagen could avert 2,600 additional premature deaths and save roughly 4 billion euros in health care costs.
While Volkswagen certainly has not played by the rules with its emissions machinations, it may not be the only carmaker spewing bar air. Volkswagen spokesman Andreas Meurer said that investigations by the German, French and British governments found that emissions from the company’s vehicles “are comparable with, and in many cases even better, than those of our competitors.” This may be because emissions test recognition software, though outlawed in the U.S., still occupies a legal gray area in Europe. That is why the MIT team plans to expand its study to include excess emissions by all car manufacturers. According to Guillaume Chossière, an MIT research assistant and lead author of the study, “Europe has very severe air quality issues, and enforcing standards in diesel cars should be considered as a first step toward cleaner air.”
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