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VW’s Emissions Cheating Estimated to Cause 60 American Deaths

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In 2014-2015, auto safety news was all about General Motors and their ignition switch defect, which was eventually linked with over 100 deaths and over 200 injuries. In 2015, Takata took over the spotlight with its defective air bag explosions, linked to at least eight deaths and over 100 injuries.

Now, Volkswagen finds itself in the cross hairs of U.S. regulatory bodies concerned about public safety. In September 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that many Volkswagen vehicles sold in the U.S. were equipped with software that could actually “cheat” emissions testing.

We thought this was just about honesty and environmental concerns, but a recent study released by researchers at MIT and Harvard suggests that the automaker’s evasion of emission standards will contribute to 60 premature deaths in the U.S.

VW Cheated on Emissions Tests

Volkswagen has admitted that it did use cheating software on millions of its diesel vehicles worldwide. The software was able to sense when the car was going through a test, and to compensate by reducing emissions. Then when the vehicle was under normal driving conditions again, the software turned off, allowing emissions to increase beyond legal limits. It is believed the manufacturer did this to possibly conserve fuel or improve the car’s performance in other ways, such as in acceleration or torque.

According to an article in the New York Times, West Virginia University tested Volkswagen on the road in May 2014, and their results led to an investigation by the California Air Resources Board. They found that two VW models with turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engines were emitting almost 40 times the legal levels of nitrogen oxides. These are significant air pollutants, present in harmful particulate matter and ozone, and are linked to cardiopulmonary disease and premature death.

So far, the EPA has ordered VW to recall the following affected vehicles:

• Jetta (2009-2015)
• Beetle and Beetle Convertible (2012-2015)
• Passat (2012-2015)
• Audi A3 (2010-2015)
• Jetta SportWagen (2009-2014)
• Golf (2010-2015)
• Golf SportWagen (2015)

In November, the EPA stated it also found the same software in the following vehicles:

• Touareg (2014)
• Audi A6 Quattro (2016)
• Audi Quattro (2016)
• Audi and A8L (2016)
• Audi (2016)
• Porsche Cayenne (2015)

As of November 2015, VW had admitted that about 11 million vehicles worldwide were fitted with the “defeat device.” They plan a recall of about 500,000 vehicles in the U.S.

VW’s Actions to Cost Americans Their Health

According to the study conducted by researchers at MIT and Harvard University, the amount of excess pollution put out by the affected VW vehicles in the U.S. will cause “around 60 people in the U.S. to die 10 to 20 years prematurely,” according to an MIT news article. They added that if the automaker succeeds at recalling all affected vehicles by the end of 2016, an additional 130 premature deaths can be avoided.

The researchers also estimated that the excess emissions put out by VW vehicles would contribute to 31 cases of chronic bronchitis and 34 cardiac- and respiratory-related hospital admissions. In total, the issue is expected to cost $450 million in healthcare expenses and other social expenses.