While it’s difficult to directly tie deaths to Volkswagen’s diesel scandal, an analysis shows just how deadly it could be.
Unlike GM’s ignition switch recall, which has been tied to at least 124 deaths, the human toll of Volkswagen’s cheating on diesel emissions tests isn’t as clear cut. What we do know is that the German automaker’s diesel engines emitted tons of extra pollutants into the air worldwide, all of which could harm human health. The company has confirmed that it installed illegal software that deceived emissions tests in at least 11 million diesel cars, the majority of which are not in the U.S. Still, an analysis estimates that the extra nitrogen oxides and pollution emitted in the U.S. from Volkswagen’s scandal could have caused an estimated 106 deaths.
To arrive at that estimation, The New York Times looked at power plant pollution, where some counties are subjected to regulations to reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions by 350 tons a year. According to a team of three researchers, Olivier Deschenes, Joseph S. Shapiro and Michael Greenstone, the reduced pollution was responsible for about five fewer deaths for every 100,000 people in the affected counties annually, as well as for a decrease in spending on prescription drugs. The excess Volkswagen pollution is estimated to be about 46,000 tons since 2008, or the equivalent of about four percent of the power plant pollution reduction the researchers measured.
An associate professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at M.I.T., Noelle Eckley Selin, looked at the mortality effects of the particulate pollution produced by nitrogen oxides to arrive at a different estimate. According to Selin, she used numbers the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses to make health estimates and found that the effects added about 40 additional deaths over the same period, meaning Volkswagen’s diesel scandal could potentially be tied to more than 145 deaths.
Of course, it’s not an exact science to determine just how deadly Volkswagen’s extra pollution has been due to its cheating on diesel emissions tests, but one thing is coming into focus: Volkswagen’s clean diesel isn’t so clean and could even be deadly.
[Source: The New York Times]