By on September 29, 2015

Passat TDI engine, Picture Courtesy of Volkswagen

A report by the New York Times estimates that Volkswagen cars that illegally polluted up to 40 times more nitrogen oxides may have contributed to more than 100 premature deaths in the U.S., nearly equal to the faulty GM ignition switch that has been linked to 124 deaths.

The researchers calculated the effects of the increased nitrogen oxides by using numbers derived from U.S. counties where power plant emissions had been reduced. Those counties removed 350 tons of nitrogen dioxides per year and had 5 fewer deaths per 100,000 people. Calculating the number of VW diesels and their average emissions at 39 times the legal limit, the writers concluded that the cars could be responsible for 106 premature deaths nationwide.

An associate professor at MIT used figures from the Environmental Protection Agency to estimate that pollution from dirty Volkswagens may have caused around 40 premature deaths, which the article’s authors cite could be on the low end.

The total effect of pouring tons of nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere and its impact on health would be extremely difficult to calculate — let alone prove in court for plaintiffs who may sue Volkswagen.

But so far, it appears that VW’s growing scandal has at least one casualty: diesel’s immediate future.

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74 Comments on “Report: VW’s Dirty Diesels May Have Caused Up to 100 Deaths...”

  • avatar


    Right in the abstract:

    “Using rich quasi-experimental variation, we find that the reductions in NOx emissions decreased the number of
    summer days with high ozone levels by about 25%. The NBP also led to reductions in expenditures on
    prescription pharmaceutical expenditures of about 1.9%. Additionally, the summer mortality rate
    declined by approximately 0.5%, indicating that there were about 2,200 fewer premature deaths per
    summer, mainly among individuals 75 and older. ”

    So summer only and 75 and older, quite a limited study eh?

    Life expectancy these days is only 76/81 male/female, thus the men are likely to die anyway at the cusp of 75.

    Moreover the study does not take into account advances in medical science since 1997 or 2004.

    “United States 79 37 76 36 81”

    “We detect no meaningful effect on the mortality of persons aged 74 and below, although
    taken literally, the point estimates imply that the market prevented about 375 deaths within this group.
    The largest impact on mortality occurs among people aged 75 and older. These results suggest that the
    NBP prevented about 1,800 deaths each summer among people 75 and older. As with the entire
    population, respiratory and cardiovascular deaths explain much of the effects on elderly mortality ”

    *We detect no meaningful effect on the mortality of persons aged 74 and below*

    Ut oh so lets spitball

    “the point estimates imply that the market prevented about 375 deaths within this group.”

    Well Christ on a bike shouldn’t this magic apply to those who perish prior to 74?

    I’m specifically thinking in the 60-74 period.

    Oh but it doesn’t so lets just make up a figure based on our earlier flawed research.

    Keep making sh*t up watermelons until it fits your pre-concluded ideas.


    This is beautiful

    “The market included 2,500 electricity generating
    units and industrial boilers, although the 700 coal-fired electricity generating units in the market
    accounted for 95 percent of all NOx emissions in the market (USEPA 2009b). ”

    95% is power plants.

    So you take every diesel car/truck/power generator/tractor trailer off the market tomorrow to gain…

    5%. That’s all folks.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it zealots.

    I say MORE diesel.

    • 0 avatar

      Do they have Fukushima numbers for us? I want to have outrage about something that is probably actually killing me.

      • 0 avatar

        Funny that, it all seems to have been swept under the rug hasn’t it?

        I would love to see a good Fukushima study on the effects in the US.

        • 0 avatar

          Why would you expect to know the true extent of the radiation leakage ? Tepco has been clueless at best and VW at worst. Every now and again a scientific paper comes out on this topic…but kind of like the Gulf, what gets out is controlled.

          It isn’t like the US (and Russia, and China, etc.) have networks of very sensitive, very expensive spy satellites that can track nuclear materials…

          Oh, and I guess now I have to take my TDi up to Alaska and run over baby seals….oh, wait, there isn’t any ice due to my car’s nox pollutions…I don’t have to go now…..


          pass the popcorn

          • 0 avatar

            Bingo. I just crunched some figures, replacing 50 of those 700 coal plants with say solar power reduces 7% of circa 2009 NOx which is more than every non-power plant source of NOx emissions in the same period (I realize 50 solar panel plants is a big job and will take years). Why is it these Earth worshipers don’t get this? These people usually sound intelligent and yet apparently are this stupid.

          • 0 avatar

            Additional: They know what happened and they choose not to bring attention to it. The Fearless Leader of Hope, Change, and Destruction himself made an unplanned visit to Brazil shortly after Fukushima blew.


          • 0 avatar

            You did a great job of misinterpreting that study.

        • 0 avatar

          Interesting article last week in the NYT regarding a study of Fukushima survivors.

          According to the study, no deaths in Japan attributed to radiation, but 1,600 death attributed to the evacuation.

          No word about effects in the US, but the article notes that much of the radiation was swept out to sea by easterly winds, so it is possible that some of it made it over here, but also just as likely to have come back to earth as fallout before making it to the US.

          It’s not really keeping me up at night.

          • 0 avatar

            Not deaths, but Americans affected by Fukushima radiation:

            Elevated airborne beta levels in Pacific/West Coast US States and trends in hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown


        • 0 avatar

          For people who supposedly are all about supporting “the science”, the NYT and the rest of the left are certainly fond of magical thinking.

          • 0 avatar

            Based on my quick read of the Scientific Research paper, it seems as though the link of hypothyroidism to radiation from Fukushima pretty tenuous. There seems to be something going on out there, but the authors are pretty conservative in their claims, basically saying that they need to look deeper to see what the cause really is.

            I live in the Midwest, so it still doesn’t keep me up at night (sorry left-coasters!), but I’d certainly be a little more nervous if I was in the PNW. But really, there seem to be plenty of more effective ways to increase your health risks than sitting around waiting for Fukushima radiation to do you in. Lots of direct sunlight and unfiltered Lucky Strikes, for instance.

      • 0 avatar

        I can’t give numbers, but how about a chart showing how much radiation you get from certain tasks or locations?

        • 0 avatar

          • 0 avatar

            Oh good. More things to be afraid of.

          • 0 avatar

            Not exactly horsedung, because NOx is the prime component of ozone, which primarily afflicts urban areas. Some cities are affected more than others. My hometown (St. Louis) has huge problem with ozone and it’s not just old folks who are affected.

            So, no, dumping more NOx into the atmosphere on a country-wide basis may not cause more problems on a country-wide basis…but spewing more of it into the atmosphere in large cities will cause problems. No way around it.

            And 28, I doubt you’d be unconcerned about this affecting old folks if you were one.

            So…study is probably not all that good but clearly more NOx is NOT what we need in big cities.

          • 0 avatar

            The study is incredibly flawed, read it yourself (flawed in its human life expectancy conclusions).

            At best they were given poor data and tried to do something with it to justify themselves and at worse they came up with a conclusion beforehand and shaped the study around it.

            The study also quotes EPA circa 2009 stating 95% of NOx comes from power plants. The amount of NOx released from diesel cars is statistically insignificant.

        • 0 avatar

          I’d be more concerned about Radon gas in one’s house as opposed to Fukushima since Radon rates #2 (smoking #1)for lung cancer.

          As far as downplaying pollution risks let’s explain simply the amount of air we move through our lungs in a day:

          If one assumes the normal volume for an “at rest” breath is 500ml and average respiratory rate of 16/minute (normal rate of 12-20/minute)then we are looking at a minimum of 8,000ml/minute. 8 litres a minute translates to 480 litres per hour and 11,520 litres per day.

          In American gallons that would be 2,969 gallons of air per day.

          So how is a reduction in pollution a bad thing again?

      • 0 avatar

        maybe one extra death among the group of highest exposed workers over the next 50 years… every one else got doses that fall between … not meaningfully harmful to slightly beneficial depending on the studies vs. love of applying linearity to non-linear situations.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m gonna watch Craigslist for used Fukushima parts to convert my Golf to something safer while I drive around collecting parts to convert my exhalations into EPA approved some-damn-things.

        If climate is so sensitive to change, why is it so insensitive to correction? By the way, if change is bad, how do you stop the natural progression of global temperature without changing it?

        • 0 avatar

          Once you’ve set something in motion, it’s difficult to stop. It’s not that the change is bad, it’s just that we’ve built our entire society on the assumption that we’ll be able to grow certain foods in certain areas, which is a lot more difficult at a different avg. temp. The Corn Belt is moving into Canada, and California is out of water.

        • 0 avatar

          So, you want radioactive parts for your Golf to turn it into a GTR because Godzilla?

      • 0 avatar

        Give the government time…they will keep grinding away, trying to justify a larger fine than ones that others have previously been able to land.

        It is the government equivalent of a bass-fishing tournament, with corporate fine size as the scale used to determine winners.

        Just the other day the local NPR radio station carried an audio clip about how a recent settlement was “larger than the Exxon Valdez settlement”.

        It is a contest to see who can pad the government’s coffers while gaining personal recognition for having been the architect of the settlement.

        Anyone who has spent more than a couple of months on, or inside, the Beltway, can see the game unfolding, step by step, testing the waters to see if public support can be drummed up for larger bites (a/k/a la mordida, the bite, south of the border).

    • 0 avatar

      MIT should be ashamed.

  • avatar

    According to a thorough and detailed research conducted by me in the last 40 seconds: 100% of car crash victims had eaten tomatoes at least once in their lifetime. This can only mean one thing, people. TOMATOES CAUSE CAR CRASHES AND DEATH!!!

  • avatar

    I hate these kinds of stupid causation reports. Pulling numbers from studies and stringing them together like soup cans, hoping to come up with something that replicates a worthy soundbite.

    Garbage. If these VW vehicles had not been cheating emissions, they’d have been 12.5% slower due to lower power output. Statistically speaking, that means 15 people would have been late to work 29 times, costing the US GDP $43,122.55. Day traders would see this loss reflected in the markets, and 9 would murder a dog, causing stress on the ASPCA. Additionally, the slower vehicles would be 13.55% more likely to become stuck between railroad crossings, contributing 49 deaths.

    • 0 avatar

      You forgot to mention the countless lives saved by GM’s faulty ignition switches. Most of the victims would eventually become school bus drivers one day fall asleep behind the wheel and drive a bus full of 8 year olds off a bridge. 124*43 kids per bus = some big number of lives saved. Maybe we should reward GM a lot of money.

    • 0 avatar

      Garbage or not, you can bet that in the next 48 hours one of the three networks’ national evening news broadcasts will contain the following:

      “Some breaking news on the continuing Volkswagen scandal, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said today that more than 100 deaths in the U.S. can be linked to pollutants from cars that failed to meet government emissions standards.”

      Nobody will ask about the specious reasoning that led to the number. Once David Muir reads it out loud, it’ll be gospel.

  • avatar


    People must by dying in the streets in Europe.

    • 0 avatar

      Come on, be nice to these professors, and I guess this MIT associate professor, ’cause don’t you know they are forced to get published.
      If they don’t, they get fired. Or perhaps have to teach, God Forbid!

      And the only way to REALLY get published and noticed is to produce something anti-American, anti-conservative or Anti-mankind. Everybody in research knows this. IT is where the funding is.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. The entire continent used to smell like the exhaust of a 1960s-vintage Mack. Yet somehow they live longer than Americans. Pretty sure the diesel death effect is rounding error at most.

      • 0 avatar

        this painfully reminds me of a trial I once attended over a few weeks. The one individual was suing another and a corporation for wrongful death or error in medical treatment.
        It was amazing watching and listening to the paid experts.
        Each side brought forth their experts. They were paid hundreds of dollars per hour to testify. And reading up on their histories, it was stunning to see how they switched sides according to the money involved.
        So quick were these experts to testify based upon the income…it should be illegal.
        Our justice system sets upon this horrid use of these legal whores.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t it the NYT that said over 300 plus died from GM ignition switches and then walked it back?

    Look, as someone who has breathing issues the problems around NOx bother me, but up to 100 people killed because of this???

    Talk about grasping at straws.

  • avatar

    While I am a supporter of strong emissions standards, I call complete BS on this piece of pseudo science.

  • avatar

    What a load of horse hockey.

  • avatar

    The EU attained their Kyoto 2020 emission reduction goal in 2012.
    Given the claims of death in the VW article, the reduction should be worth Quadrillions of euros to taxpayers. If death claims are real,taxpayers are due massive tax credits. If not true, then death claims are false.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    There are lies, damn lies, and “estimates.”

  • avatar

    The “claim” is bull cookie. Dishonest too I feel since it ignores that cars are so much more cleaner than they were decades ago!

    “Now, the hysterical media accounts of the above make it seem that the alteration via code of the vehicles’ exhaust emissions was anything but slight. Shrill cries of up to “40 times” the “allowable maximum” echo across the land.

    Well, true.

    But, misleading.

    Because not defined – put in context.VW 2

    What is the “allowable maximum”?

    It is a very small number.

    Less than 1 percent of the total volume of the car’s exhaust. We are talking fractions of percentages here. Which is why talk of “40 percent” is so misleading and, frankly, deliberately dishonest.

    Left out of context, the figure sounds alarming. As in 40 percent of 100 percent.

    As opposed to 40 percent of the remaining unscrubbed 1-3 percent or .05 percent or whatever it is (depending on the specific “harmful” byproduct being belabored).”

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. The median “allowable maximum times twenty” works out to about one tenth the NOx of the average diesel truck 10 years ago.

      (Which, by the way, was a fleet of something like 30 million.)

      If a half million of these VWs “killed” 100 people, extension of that math would put the death toll of the diesel trucking industry circa 2007 at 60,000.

  • avatar

    This is clearly a conspiracy to commit eugenics by the auto manufacturers, with GM killing off the stupid while VW goes after the weak and unhealthy. Who’s next? Nobody should feel safe with these evil corporations plotting against us.

  • avatar

    This “study” would be ripe for an old-fashioned Monty Python parody sketch:
    – Driver turns the key on a diesel car and keels over.
    – A farmer goes out to the tractor to do some chores. The farmer dies but the tractor continues to “plow” through a stone fence.
    – A lorry driver starts his truck, he drops dead but it drives headlong into a gas station and creates a huge mushroom cloud…and cue the cartoon segue.

  • avatar

    Well, we’re living in the age of “MPG-e”…Why not DEATHS-e?

  • avatar

    More voodoo science for the masses. I might have overeaten and killed a few cows myself.

  • avatar

    It is my belief that the MIT study holds merit, therefore, admissible as evidence. Class action lawsuit; Humans vs. Volkswagen.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    In the meantime, while the debate goes on, people are actually “rolling coal”:

  • avatar

    Being that emissions from a power plant are from a source that does not move while the dirty VWs can be scattered across the country, I fail to see how this study makes any sense. Flawed studies like this just give ammunition to the conservatards who will point to it as another example the evil left manipulating facts. And sadly, this is pretty bad manipulation. Which is so unnecessary as there are plenty of valid examples on the health connections to pollution. There is just no need to make them up.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly this!

      While there was most certainly a measure of health effects from the extra NoX, it’s a big stretch to attempt to quantify it, and to publicize the tenuous results.

      But, I’d be willing to bet that health insurance companies do this sort of thing routinely.

      • 0 avatar

        Not really. Health insurance companies are more concerned with the well-researched diseases like diabetes, heart stuff, HIV, etc. The catastrophic events (nuclear, terrorism, etc) have special coverage which would kick in – to avoid a big hit to their financials.

  • avatar

    I want a study on how many deaths are caused by the lack of visibility in most newer cars and SUVs due to ‘safety’ standards.

    If I ever get f-yoo money, I’ll astro-turf fund activists to protest “Hey, Hey, NHTSA, how many people have you killed today” in front of random congress-critters.

    • 0 avatar

      Not that I’d be against that, but is “deaths caused by lack of visibility” a quantifiable metric? Can you ask people who died in accidents if it was because of the massive D-pillar?

    • 0 avatar

      You can say that again! I’ve drove some of the new vehicles and you can’t see anything! Must be one of the greatest safety hazards of all time!

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, we’re going to spend $18 million per life saved to require back up cameras in every car, so clearly, when thinking of the children, no price is too high to fix a problem that shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place.

      • 0 avatar

        I know its trendy to blame the government for regulating industry, but I really like backup cameras. We have 3 cars – 2 with and 1 without, and whenever I back up in the one without the camera, it feels like a real disadvantage, especially if I am backing up or down an incline.

        I am happy to spend an additional $50 for a backup camera built into my car, and I suspect the vast majority of consumers agree. If automakers didn’t think that were true, they would delay installing these cameras until they were forced to, or they would have paid their lobbyist a few extra million to kill this regulation. Neither happened for a reason.

  • avatar

    Consider the source.

  • avatar

    So lets assume that they’re correct, and there really are 100 premature deaths due to dirty diesels. Why would anyone spend 2 cents even thinking about such a stupid statistic, when 100’s of Thousands of people are prematurely killed all the time by smoking? And Thousands more are killed all the time by the effects of second hand smoke? Why doesn’t the imbecilic EPA look at some real dirty air for a change, and ban cigarette smoking? (Oh,I know, follow the money trail, big Tobacco pays lots of taxes). But really, the time and effort to clean auto emissions is just so lame, when the real killers are left free to kill millions.

  • avatar

    How many deaths have been caused by the New York Times, through ink poisoning of the water supply, bad-news-induced heart attacks, and delivery van accidents?

  • avatar

    That is some serious sky-is-falling-bandwagon bullsh!t right there. Total bunk.

  • avatar

    Up to 100 deaths? VW can point to this and expect a less than GM sized fine now – which is substantially less than the early speculation.

    …After all, how could a court find NYTimes environmental journalism lacking in any way?….

  • avatar

    Thinking about it, I have a question.. Is there *any* good source of news out there anymore? I just want unbiased reporting. No left or right slant, no sensationalism, just straight up news.

    I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t read news as much as I should because it’s gotten too tabloid-ish to even stomach anymore.

  • avatar

    So TDIs kill old, frail people? Having read between the lines of the healthcare debate, I’d think the NYT would think that’s a good thing.

    Kinda like global warming. We can control the climate? Excellent! We just have to keep enough internal combustion engines around so that when the next ice age comes along we can fire them all up and ward it off.

  • avatar

    I know that someone has probably already brought this up but, dont you think its funny how VW can fire or remove as they say a top guy and then this happens. I smell a snitch.

  • avatar

    How many deaths is my granny’s ’68 Nova responsible for? Somebody stop her before she kills again!

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