Severe Health and Economic Effects from VW’s Emissions Cheat

A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health analyzed the health and economic impacts of Volkswagen’s emissions cheat and found strong effects. This study predicted that the emissions could lead to as many as 50 premature deaths, $423 million in economic costs, and 3,000 lost workdays.

From 2008 until till 2016, Volkswagen installed software in nearly 500,000 cars that turned off the control system for nitrogen oxides emissions during normal driving in an effort to show lower emissions than the cars were actually producing. Since nitrogen oxides contribute to respiratory problems and premature mortality, the discovery created a firestorm for the automaker.

Researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and Northwestern University’s Feinburg School of Medicine used a tool developed and used by the EPA to assess the effects of a single year of elevated emissions from these VW vehicles.

While a number of different types of air pollutants pose threats to humans, small particulate matter (PM) poses particular risks because the small molecules lodge deep in the lungs and spread throughout the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The model used by these researchers calculated changes in the level of these PMs in the air related to nitrogen oxide emissions. Then, they were able to estimate the costs on health and the economy.

If anything the study underestimates the health risks and economic costs associated with the emissions from the altered VW vehicles.

  • The analysis only looked at one year of emissions.
  • The researchers examined emissions from 2.0-liter diesel engines, not 3.0-liter ones.
  • The study did not factor in the approximately 800,000 other diesel and gas vehicles that underreport CO2
  • The researchers did not examine the link between nitrogen oxide and ozone.

VW agreed to pay as much as $14.7 billion to take affected cars off the road or retrofit them. In addition, the US government may file criminal charges and civil penalties for violating the Clean Air Act.


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