Around nine million VW diesel cars have been emitting illegal amounts of nitrogen oxide from 2009 to 2015, when the fraud was discovered, and this will result in an early death for many thousands of people, say researchers.
The populations of Europe and the US are inhaling fine dust particles from uncontrolled levels of nitrogen oxide from the cars. Researchers from the Radboud University in the Netherlands reckon the fraud has resulted in an additional 526 kilo tonnes of nitrogen oxide being released into the atmosphere beyond the legal limit set for diesel motors.
Around 44,000 life-years have been lost in Europe, with the balance in the US where fewer VW diesel cars have been purchased, but this could escalate to 72,000 years if the company does not recall the cars and adjust their emission levels.
In addition to deaths, the scandal will also cause many more chronic illnesses that will impact on quality of life. The researchers estimate that an additional $39bn will be spent on healthcare costs, far above the $7.3bn that VW executives have estimated.
US environmental inspectors discovered the fraud last year, which involved the manipulation of software that was calculating lower emission levels than were actually being generated by the cars.