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Danger to life from nitrogen oxides: tens of thousands of avoidable fatalities every year due to diesel emissions


Around 38,000 deaths annually due to non-compliance with exhaust gas limits for diesel engines
Every year, over 100,000 people worldwide die from nitrogen oxides from diesel exhaust gases. Tens of thousands of deaths could be avoided if the prescribed limits were met. But as the VW exhaust scandal has shown, there is a lot of cheating in this area.

Fine dust pollution represents a high health risk
It has long been known that environmental pollution is associated with a high health risk. Just last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that air pollution is causing more and more deaths worldwide. Even small amounts of fine dust can be dangerous. The tiny particles can damage the respiratory tract, exacerbate lung diseases such as asthma and smoking lung, or even cause a heart attack or stroke. The auto industry makes a significant contribution to global air pollution.

38,000 people died prematurely
According to an extrapolation, around 38,000 people worldwide died prematurely in 2015 alone because diesel vehicles do not comply with legal emission limits - "especially in the European Union, China and India," says a message from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The EU accounts for 11,400 of these deaths, according to an international team of researchers led by Dr. Susan Anenberg from the organization Environmental Health Analytics in Washington reports in the journal "Nature".

According to them, the total number of premature deaths due to nitrogen oxides from diesel exhaust gases was 107,600 for the world's eleven largest car markets.

Car manufacturers cheated on the exhaust gas values
As part of the study, which also involved the University of Colorado, the Stockholm Environment Institute and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, it was calculated that diesel vehicles emit around 4.6 million tons more nitrogen oxides annually than they are officially released the tests of the manufacturers should.

According to the scientists, the total output in 2015 was 13.1 million tons. In strong sunlight, nitrogen oxides form ozone. The molecules also contribute to fine dust pollution.

The revelations in 2015, when it became known that Volkswagen and other manufacturers were using certain devices "to hide from regulators that their diesel vehicles emit too much nitrogen oxide have helped raise public awareness of the problem," writes the ICCT.

Many diesel vehicles emit more pollutants on the road than on the exhaust test bench. Systems that measure exhaust gases directly in road traffic have meanwhile been able to determine in a series of studies how large the additional emissions are.

Researchers focused on nitrogen oxides
Anenberg and colleagues used these results and established models for the spread of pollutants to estimate the emissions above the limit values ​​and the consequences for the eleven largest markets for diesel vehicles.

Around 80 percent of all diesel vehicles are sold in these markets - Australia, Brazil, China, the 28 EU countries, India, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Russia, South Korea and the USA, reports the dpa news agency.

In their study, the experts focused on nitrogen oxides such as nitrogen oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Five markets - Brazil, China, the EU, India and the United States - claim to account for 90 percent of the additional emissions. In their model calculations, the scientists differentiated between cars, trucks and buses.

"Heavy goods traffic - larger trucks and buses - was by far the largest contributor to the excess nitrogen oxides, namely 76 percent," said Josh Miller of the ICCT in Washington.

Diesel cars are more common in the EU
The situation is only different in the EU because diesel cars are considerably more widespread there: These vehicles cause around 60 percent of the additional emissions of nitrogen oxides per year in the EU countries.

"Europe carries the greatest health burden among the largest auto markets through additional nitrogen oxide emissions," said ICCT expert and co-author Ray Minjares.

Of the 28,500 premature deaths due to nitrogen oxides from diesel exhaust gases in the EU, around 11,400 are attributable to additional emissions due to non-compliance with exhaust gas limit values.

Environmental and health effects
Benjamin Stephan from Greenpeace described the study as "overdue": "It provides data that we have previously missed in the discussion," said the expert, according to dpa.

According to him, the investigation was carried out solidly, but more precise information on car classes and brands was missing.

The study could lead to a different focus in dealing with the diesel exhaust scandal. “Up to now, fraud has often been the focus of car owners. Now it is clear what scale the scandal is and what impact it will have on the environment and human health, ”said Stephan.

The final report of the committee of inquiry of the German Bundestag on the exhaust gas scandal, which will be published shortly, comes to a different assessment. There it says: "Epidemiologically, a connection between deaths and certain NO2 exposures in the sense of adequate causality has not been established."

Various experts disagree. For example, Nino Künzli from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (TPH) in Basel said: “The combination effects of NO2 with other pollutants that are always present have hardly been researched toxicologically, which is why it is not appropriate to consider NO2 per se as harmless designate. "(ad)

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