— U.S. deaths from illegal Volkswagen emissions from 2008-2015 are estimated at 59, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by Harvard and MIT.
Published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, the study estimates the physical and financial cost due to Volkswagen's illegal use of "defeat devices" to alter emissions tests. The automaker was caught cheating the system in almost 500,000 diesel cars in the U.S. and 11 million vehicles worldwide.
The study estimates the impact for U.S. residents only, all based on nearly 500,000 cars emitting up to 40 times the legal amount of nitrogen oxides from 2008-2015. Nitrogen oxides are a group of gases that create smog, acid rain and ground-level ozone. Health problems caused by nitrogen oxides include bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory problems.
Researchers calculated emissions and effects by using data about traffic, average miles driven, weather and heath issues.
The study concludes an estimated 59 early deaths will occur in the U.S., all caused by 2008-2015 excess emissions, and at a cost of $450 million. In addition, sicknesses and sick days are calculated at 31 cases of chronic bronchitis, 34 hospital admissions, 120,000 minor restricted activity days, 210,000 lower respiratory symptom days and 33,000 days of increased bronchodilator (inhaler) usage.
The study also estimated what the impact will be if the U.S. diesel cars aren't recalled. Without a recall, the VW vehicles will cause 140 early deaths from 2016 at a cost of $910 million. However, if the vehicles are recalled and brought into compliance by the end of 2016, 93 percent of these deaths and 92 percent of the costs can be avoided.
Including the early deaths that have occurred or are already bound to occur, this means bringing the diesel vehicles into compliance in 2016 can avert 66% of total early deaths and 62% of costs.
The study also estimates the increased nitrogen oxide emissions in the U.S. at 36.7 million kg from 2008-2015.
Researchers point out the numbers involved are estimates and many uncertainties exist throughout the study period. Also important to note is the study involves the 482,000 diesel cars in the U.S alone. Other countries would suffer a great deal more harm based on a worldwide total of 11 million affected VW diesel cars.