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To what extent was VW pollution fraud a death device?

September 23rd, 2015 · No Comments

Looking at the reporting as to Volkswagon’s systemic fraud re diesel-engine pollution, there are some legitimate questions to ask:

  • Will legal entities, around the world, take the legitimate approach of moving beyond “Corporate” to individual responsibility?  Will — sadly unlike the financial frauds of the 2000s — executives go to jail?
  • To what extent do the implications from the 11 million+ VW vehicles built with systems designed to deceive pollution testing devices threaten VW’s financial health and, even, viability as a major global automaker?
  • How many people have and will die due to VW’s deliberate deceit?

This last is a question that seems not to have caught attention … yet.

Pollution regulation exists, in no small part, to protect human health.  When it comes to vehicle fuels, the regulatory action to remove lead has had an economic value exceeding $3 trillion over the past 30 years with untold numbers of people living better lives (from reduced brain damage to reductions in crime rates).  Volkswagen acted deliberately — in what we might reasonably call a criminal conspiracy — to undermine pollution regulations.  In other words, acting with malice and forethought to take actions to threaten human lives around the world.

The VW system to defeat/deceive pollution testing systems has led to (and continues to cause) increased pollution levels, particularly of NoX.

Nitrogen oxides, or NOx,  contribute to smog, particulate matter and a wide range of health problems for certain people, which is why they’re so heavily regulated in emissions. Via the EPA:

NOx pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with a range of serious health effects, including increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses that can be serious enough to send people to the hospital. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter have also been associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk for health effects of these pollutants.

Over 11 million vehicles being driven around the world with systems deliberately designed to emit greater levels of pollutants than regulation allows.   How many people have faced “serious health effects” due to Volkswagen’s actions?  How may have had implications “serious enough to send [them] to the hospital”?  How many people are six feet underground who might have been alive if Volkswagen’s executives had not made deliberate decisions to foster increased pollutant emissions?

To date, reporting has discussed the potential financial implications (stock falling, over $7B for a recall, potential for $16B of fines (just in the United States), etc …) and the likely end of VW’s CEO’s tenure due to this.  When will we begin talking about how many people Volkswagen has killed?

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Tags: pollution