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7th Mar 2021

Study: Dieselgate helped cause 6,800 premature deaths in EU

  • Protest sticker in Brussels

Emissions produced by diesel passenger cars that exceed the EU pollution limit helped cause the premature deaths of 6,800 Europeans in 2015, according to a study published on Monday (15 May) in the renowned scientific magazine Nature.

Researchers calculated that nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions contributed to 107,600 premature deaths in 2015 in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, and the US.

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In the European Union alone, NOx emissions contributed to 28,456 premature deaths. Of those premature deaths, 40 percent were caused by emissions that would not have existed if car, bus and truck manufacturers had produced vehicles that always stayed under EU limits when driving on the road.

EU passenger cars, buses and trucks can only be sold if they pass emissions tests. The actual emissions on the road, however, are often much higher than what would be expected from the results in the tests.

Many car-makers, in particular, designed their vehicles in such a way that they pass the laboratory test, which does not go far enough in mimicking the conditions of real-life driving. Those cars were then found to emit much more pollution when in actual use on the road - causing a scandal that became known as Dieselgate.

The researchers whose article appeared in Nature on Monday have calculated how many people have died prematurely because of NOx, but also how many of those premature deaths are linked to the amount that was emitted beyond what is legally allowed, a concept they call “excess emissions”.

They found some 16 percent of those EU premature deaths were linked to excess emissions from trucks and buses, and 24 percent to excess emissions from passenger cars.

“Europe suffers the largest health burden from excess diesel NOx emissions of any major vehicle market”, said one of the study's authors, Ray Minjares, in a press release.

Minjares and several other co-authors are linked to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a non-governmental organisation that helped to uncover the emissions fraud by Volkswagen Group (VW).

It was the ICCT's research that American authorities used as a lead to uncover Volkswagen's cheating.

The study in Nature magazine followed a similar study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which said Volkswagen cars with emissions cheating software in Germany alone caused a total of 1,200 premature deaths in Europe during the period between 2008 and 2015.

Both studies appeared in peer-reviewed publications and are the first to quantify the harm to health caused by car-makers by not applying available technology to develop clean diesel cars.

They also raise questions surrounding the lack of legal action that Europe's responsible national authorities have shown since the scandal broke in September 2015.

The European Commission began infringement proceedings last year against Germany, the UK, Luxembourg and Spain, because they had not punished VW's subsidiaries – Volkswagen, Skoda, Audi, and Seat (respectively) – for using cheating software.

Earlier this year, a European Parliament inquiry committee concluded that maladministration at national and EU level had created the legal environment in which Dieselgate could happen.

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