Pollution can kill, there’s no disputing that fact. So, if pollution kills, how many people might have died as a result of the additional pollutants emitted by Volkswagen vehicles equipped with software that allowed them to cheat on emissions standards? That’s the question posed by a pair of New York Times writers, who dug into the issue and came up with some grim estimates. Their numbers range from about 106 deaths to roughly 146 deaths since 2008 as a result of the 46,000 tons of additional tailpipe emissions from the Volkswagen vehicles.
The writers drew on the work of three researchers who looked at mortality rates and medical spending before and after countries cut back on nitrogen oxide emissions by 350 tons per year. According to the scientists’ working paper, that reduction led to a decrease in deaths of about five per 100,000 people and a drop in prescription drug spending. The bulk of the deaths due to emissions happened in high pollution regions and impacted older people disproportionately. When figured with Volkswagen’s 46,000 tons of additional emissions, the numbers show about 106 deaths if the pollution had similar effects.
According to M.I.T professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Noelle Eckley Selin, their number might be a bit on the low side. Prof. Selin examined the mortality effects of particulate pollution from nitrogen oxides using EPA estimates and found the effects of the Volkswagen pollution could have added about 40 more deaths over the same period.
The figures don’t take into account the other, non-fatal health consequences of the additional pollution. And the reporters note that their estimates for nitrogen oxide pollution are “back-of-the-envelope,” they used data from the Kelley Blue Book for the number of Volkswagen diesel cars registered every year, and then applied a standard number of miles driven by each car based on government averages to get their numbers.
Those numbers could be even higher when you take into account the additional 2.1 million Audi vehicles equipped with the same software by its parent company Volkswagen.
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