Public health impacts of excess NO x emissions from Volkswagen diesel passenger vehicles in Germany

Guillaume P. Chossière, Robert Malina, Akshay Ashok, Irene C. Dedoussi, Sebastian D. Eastham, Raymond L. Speth, Steven R.H. Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


In September 2015, the Volkswagen Group (VW) admitted the use of 'defeat devices' designed to lower emissions measured during VW vehicle testing for regulatory purposes. Globally, 11 million cars sold between 2008 and 2015 are affected, including about 2.6 million in Germany. On-road emissions tests have yielded mean on-road NO x emissions for these cars of 0.85 g km -1 , over four times the applicable European limit of 0.18 g km -1 . This study estimates the human health impacts and costs associated with excess emissions from VW cars driven in Germany. A distribution of on-road emissions factors is derived from existing measurements and combined with sales data and a vehicle fleet model to estimate total excess NO x emissions. These emissions are distributed on a 25 by 28 km grid covering Europe, using the German Federal Environmental Protection Agency's (UBA) estimate of the spatial distribution of NO x emissions from passenger cars in Germany. We use the GEOS-Chem chemistry-transport model to predict the corresponding increase in population exposure to fine particulate matter and ozone in the European Union, Switzerland, and Norway, and a set of concentration-response functions to estimate mortality outcomes in terms of early deaths and of life-years lost. Integrated over the sales period (2008-2015), we estimate median mortality impacts from VW excess emissions in Germany to be 1200 premature deaths in Europe, corresponding to 13 000 life-years lost and 1.9 billion EUR in costs associated with life-years lost. Approximately 60% of mortality costs occur outside Germany. For the current fleet, we estimate that if on-road emissions for all affected VW vehicles in Germany are reduced to the applicable European emission standard by the end of 2017, this would avert 29 000 life-years lost and 4.1 billion 2015 EUR in health costs (median estimates) relative to a counterfactual case with no recall.

Original languageEnglish
Article number034014
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • air quality
  • diesel
  • human health
  • Volkswagen

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