DETROIT, MI – The message from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study is clear: If Volkswagen recalls the 482,000 cars in the U.S. affected by a diesel emissions scandal, it will save lives and money.
The MIT study released this week says that VW’s use of software to trick diesel emissions test already will directly contribute to 60 premature deaths in the U.S.
A spokesman for VW could not immediately be reached for comment Friday morning.
Last month the German automaker admitted to the EPA that the software is installed in 11 million cars globally.
The cars in question meet emissions standards tests in a laboratory or testing station, but in normal operation, they emit nitrogen oxides at up to 40 times the standard, according to the EPA.
The MIT study says the amount of excess pollution will have significant effects on public health, such as its conclusion that about 60 people will die 10-20 years prematurely.
In addition to the 60 premature deaths, the study says the excess emissions will directly contribute to 31 cases of chronic bronchitis and 34 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac conditions.
But it also says that if VW recalls all the affected cars by the end of 2016, it will prevent an additional 130 early deaths.
The excess emissions from the VW cars will cause $450 million in health expenses and other costs. However, a total vehicle recall by the end of 2016 could save up to $840 million in such costs, the study says.
To estimate these health effects, lead author Steven Barrett, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, along with colleagues from MIT and Harvard, used calculations on measurements by researchers at West Virginia University.
They mapped estimated emissions totals, based on sales of the affected VW cars from 2008 to 2015, and averaged out how much those cars would be driven over their lifetime.
“We all have risk factors in our lives, and [excess emissions] is another small risk factor,” Barrett explains. “If you take into account the additional risk due to the excess Volkswagen emissions, then roughly 60 people have died or will die early, and on average, a decade or more early.”
Last month Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn told U.S. lawmakers the company is trying to work on a fix for the software, but it will take a minimum one to two years to retrofit some 430,000 cars in the U.S. that can be recalled. Affected new, 2016 model cars have been quarantined at U.S. ports.
The scandal has already cut in to the company’s financial results, and the automaker faces a criminal probe in Germany, fines, class-action lawsuits and investigations from regulators.