Dieselgate and human health. Just how harmful was it?


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Vauxhall, the Volkswagen Group and Mercedes-Benz allegedly cheated emissions regulations when they fitted illegal defeat devices into some diesel vehicles. The result was high levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) being emitted into the atmosphere. In some cases, the toxic emissions were up to 35 times the legal limit.

The “dieselgate” scandal is one of the biggest corporate frauds in history and its impact is far from over. In June 2021, Peugeot, Renault, and Citroen became the latest manufacturers to be charged in connection with the investigation. Chrysler will also be questioned next month. 

Furthermore, on 8 July 2021, the European Commission published findings that Mercedes, Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche had colluded over the development of technology that could have reduced these emissions. Volkswagen and BMW have been fined a total of €875 million for breaking EU rules. But for Daimler’s (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz) assistance with the Commission’s investigation, it would also have been fined €727 million.

What is nitrogen oxide (NOx)?

NOx is a combination of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO₂). Amongst other sources, it is found in the fumes of diesel cars and industrial processes. NOx contributes to acid rain and suffocating smog, so too much in our environment is extremely dangerous.

In addition, NOx fumes are associated with significant adverse human health effects. Indeed, while the true cost is yet unknown, it is estimated that VW’s cheating alone will lead to some 1,200 premature deaths. The total number of “life-years lost” is said to be 13,000, and there has been a €1.9 billion price tag attached to those life-years lost[1].

How has emissions-cheating software impacted human health?

NOx has both direct and indirect consequences on human health. Air pollution causes more deaths globally than smoking. [2] It kills 64,000 a year in the UK and is responsible for an estimated 8.8 million early deaths worldwide. That is twice as many people as previously thought. It also results in a shortening of global life expectancy by almost three years.

“Air pollution exceeds malaria as a global cause of premature death by a factor of 19; it exceeds violence by a factor of 16, HIV [and] AIDS by a factor of 9, alcohol by a factor of 45, and drug abuse by a factor of 60.”

Professor Jos Lelieveld, The Cyprus Institute, Nicosia

Between 40-80% of air pollution related deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases (CVD), such as heart attacks and strokes. Other fatal conditions linked to air pollution and long-term exposure to nitrogen oxides include cancer, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and severe asthma. Poisonous diesel fumes can also lead to breathing difficulties, headaches, eye inflammation, and even dental problems.

NOx is also harming our environment, and this could have an impact on farming and the other essential ecosystems we all rely on.

"Concentrations of NOx have not fallen as much as expected despite the introduction of new technology on vehicles".

James Longhurst, Professor of Environmental Science and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability, UWE Bristol.

Despite the negative impact on human health (and the fact that diesel emissions have been regulated for over 50 years) in 2018, road transport still contributed to over 30% of NOx emissions in the UK. As such, manufacturers needed to adhere to the legal standards that are in place to keep these emissions under control.

Nevertheless, some car manufacturers are accused of using cheating devices to trick emissions testing and avoid legal NOx regulations. Not only did they allegedly use these devices to avoid complying with the standards put in place to protect our health, but they also colluded amongst each other to inhibit the development of technology designed to reduce these emissions.

At Keller Lenkner UK, we believe that this is both unethical and unlawful, and we are holding these manufacturers to account.

Do you have a dieselgate claim?

In total, millions of vehicles have been affected by this scandal and subjected to recall. Billions has been paid to settle class action claims and regulatory fines in other countries and we believe that affected drivers in England and Wales deserve compensation too.

Keller Lenkner UK currently represents tens of thousands of affected customers in England and Wales. You may qualify for a claim if you purchased or leased:

A Volkswagen diesel vehicle (VW, Audi, SEAT, Skoda) between June 2008 and December 2015.

A Vauxhall diesel vehicle (Agila, Antara, Astra, Cascada, Combo, Corsa, Crossland, Insignia, Meriva, Mokka, Movano, Vivaro & Zafira) between 2008 and 2019.

A Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicle between 2008 and 2018. Due to our client numbers and the expertise of our people, we have been appointed joint-lead law firm in the Mercedes litigation.

We are no longer accepting clients to our VW action.

Experts in group litigation and multi-claimant actions against large, well-funded corporations, when it comes to getting justice for our clients, Keller Lenkner UK has everything it takes to win.

In February 2024, our firm changed its name from Keller Postman UK to KP Law.

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