Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal has outraged owners of the affected diesel cars as well as anyone with an environmental conscience, not only because of the automaker’s bold deception, but because the sheer volume of pollution the cars have spewed for years is staggering by any estimate.
But now news has surfaced that the emissions cheat could be harming the health of those who own and drive the vehicles. According to a study published by Environmental Research Letters in last October, the emissions cheat likely contributed to numerous early deaths.
Simply put, owners of VW cars coded to cheat emissions appear to be dying earlier than if the automaker complied with environmental regulations.
Volkswagen installed emissions software on 10.5 million diesel-powered vehicles worldwide, including more than half a million cars and SUVs in the U.S. — all while promoting “clean diesel” as an alternative to electric and hybrid vehicles.
The software enables the vehicle to detect the special parameters of an emissions drive cycle, which prompts the vehicle’s computer to turn on emissions controls, thereby making the vehicle fully compliant with EPA rules during testing.
The software also senses steering, throttle, and other variables unique to real-time driving, which cues the computer to turn off emissions controls, allowing the vehicle to release extremely high levels of nitrogen-oxide emissions. In some vehicles, the nitrogen-oxide emissions are up to 40 times higher than federal limits allow.
Nitrogen oxide is a smog-forming pollutant that has been linked to climate change and lung cancer.
According to the Environmental Research Letters study, recalling all of the Volkswagen TDI vehicles affected by the missions cheat would spare up to 130 people a premature death from lung cancer and other illnesses. That’s more than the deaths caused by Toyota’s unintended sudden acceleration defect, General Motor’s ignition switch defect, and Takata’s airbag defect.
Researchers found that emissions from VW’s TDI vehicles can also promote a number of respiratory and cardiac problems, leading to hospitalizations, missed work, medical bills, and other problems that collectively make an impact on the economy.