Those cute little Volkswagen "clean diesels" -- you know, the ones with the defeat devices that cheat emissions tests -- will directly contribute to at least 60 premature deaths in the United States, more if a recall is not conducted promptly, a new MIT-led study finds.
Researchers took the amount of estimated excess pollution per car -- roughly 40 times the amount permitted by law -- and multiplied that times 482,000, the number of affected cars sold. Then they extrapolated the results to include population distribution and health risk factors and concluded the deceitful diesels will have "significant effects" on public health.
"It seemed to be an important issue in which we could bring to bear impartial information to help quantify the human implications of the Volkswagen emissions issue," said Steven Barrett, lead author of the study and an associate professor of aeronautrics and astronautics at MIT. "The main motivation is to inform the public and inform the developing regulatory situation."
According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, excess emissions from Volkswagen's defeat devices will cause around 60 people in the U.S. to die 10 to 20 years prematurely.
If the automaker recalls every affected vehicle by the end of 2016, more than 130 additional early deaths may be avoided. If, however, Volkswagen does not order a recall in the U.S., the excess emissions, compounding in the future, will cause 140 people to die early.
Besides the death toll, the researchers estimated that Volkswagen's trickery will contribute directly to 31 cases of chronic bronchitis and 34 hospital admissions involving respiratory and cardiac conditions. They calculate that individuals will experience about 120,000 minor restricted activity days, including work absences, and about 210,000 lower-respiratory symptom days.
"We all have risk factors in our lives, and [excess emissions] is another small risk factor," Barrett explains. "If you take into account the additional risk due to the excess Volkswagen emissions, then roughly 60 people have died or will die early, and on average, a decade or more early."
Barrett says that, per mile driven, this number is about 20 percent of the number of deaths caused by highway accidents.