Failures in emissions tests are killing thousands of people a year. Eighty percent of these deaths occur in just three countries, including India.
A recent study of eleven major diesel car markets in Nature found that pollution from nitrogen oxides (NOx) is much higher than car manufacturers have previously claimed. The study looked at countries which collectively account for 80 percent of global diesel vehicle sales. It concludes the output of diesel engines is 13.1 million tonnes of nitrogen oxide. This is 4.6 million tonnes above levels established to protect public health.
This ‘excess’ pollution presents a major challenge to public health, causing 38,000 premature deaths annually. This number could swell to 174,000 by 2040, if governments do not respond to the problem.
Excess pollution refers to pollution which is above regulatory standards. It has been in the public eye since the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, where car manufacturers – most notably Volkswagen – were found to have used ‘defeat devices’ on their products, in order to cheat emissions tests in Europe and North America.
A defeat device can detect when a vehicle is in test conditions and not on the road, adapting its performance accordingly. This meant pollutant emissions from the vehicles were much higher than tests initially suggested, causing a public outcry and leading to Volkswagen being handed a $2.8 billion fine by a U.S. judge earlier this year.
Even if the test results had not been faked by the manufacturers, the damage would have been understated. The study’s lead author, Daven Henze, says “the tests do not reflect how people drive.” He notes, “people drive them harder. They accelerate more. They drive them in cold temperatures. And they idle a lot more than they do in the test.”
Air pollution is a major problem in India. As Health Issues India wrote earlier this year, the country is “facing an apocalypse” over its poor air quality according to Greenpeace, with 3,283 deaths on a daily basis. India accounts for half of the twenty most polluted cities in the world, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.