Jan-Eiof-Jonson

5,000 deaths anually from dieselgate in Europe

Excess emissions from diesel cars cause about 5,000 premature deaths anually across Europe, a new study shows.

  • Higher exposure to secondary particles and ozone can be traced back to excess NOx emissions from diesel cars, vans and light commercial vehicles.
  • With the EU’s vehicle emission limits achieved in on the road about 5,000 premature deaths could have been avoided.
  • If diesel cars emitted as little NOx as petrol cars, about 7,500 premature deaths could be avoided annually.

Diesel excess emissions

Jan Eiof jonson

Since the late 1990s the share of diesel cars in the EU has risen to around 50% in the fleet, with important variations between countries. There are now more than 100 million diesel cars running in Europe, twice as many as in the rest of the world together. Their NOx emissions are however 4 to 7 times higher on the road than in official certification tests. Modern engine controls have been optimized by manufacturers for the specific laboratory testing but underperform in real-driving. In this new study we calculate the premature deaths from these excess NOx emissions for the population in all European countries.

Health effect estimates

About 425,000 premature deaths annually are associated with the current levels of air pollution in EU28, Norway and Switzerland. More than 90% of these premature deaths are caused by respiratory and cardiovascular diseases related to exposure to fine particulate matter. NOx is a key precursor to this fine particulate matter. This new study estimates that roughly 10,000 premature deaths annually can be attributed to NOx emissions from diesel cars, vans and light commercial vehicles. About half, around 5,000 premature deaths annually, are due to NOx emissions being much higher than limit values in real-world driving. Petrol cars have much lower emissions.

“If diesel cars emissions were as low as petrol car emissions, three quarters or about 7,500 premature deaths could have been avoided”, says Jens Borken-Kleefeld, transportation expert at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

The countries with the highest number of premature deaths attributable to fine particles from diesel cars, vans and light commercial vehicles are Italy, Germany and France. That is because of both their large populations and a high share of diesel cars. However, the risk per capita is almost twice as high in Italy as in France. “This reflects the very adverse pollution situation, particularly in highly populated Northern Italy”, says research leader Jan Eiof Jonson from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The lowest risks are in Norway, Finland and Cyprus where risks are at least fourteen times lower than the EU28+ average.

Estimated premature deaths by country due to NOx from diesel cars, vans and light commercial vehicles in the year 2013:

Country

Premature deaths 2013 with high on-road emissions

If diesel limits had been respected

If NOx emissions were as low as petrol cars

Premature deaths due to excess NOx emissions

Italy

2810

1560

890

1250

Germany

2070

1110

380

960

France

1430

750

260

680

United Kingdom

640

320

110

320

Netherlands

360

180

60

180

Poland

360

190

80

170

Spain

370

200

70

170

Belgium

290

150

50

140

Switzerland

250

130

50

120

Hungary

190

100

50

90

remaining 20 EUR

1060

580

230

460

EU-28

9575

5135

2180

4440

EU28 + NOR + SWI

9830

5270

2230

4560

The central value is 9,830 premature deaths annually in EU28+NOR+SWI, with an uncertainty range from 6,300 to 13,000 premature deaths. Direct health impacts from NO2 have not been included to avoid double-counting.

Remaining 20 EUR countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden. They account for 23 % of the population, but only for 10% of the premature deaths from dieselgate. For comparison the top four countries have 50 % of the population and 70 % of the dieselgate premature deaths.


The study was conducted by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in cooperation with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, and the Dept. Space, Earth & Environment at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. In this study the Norwegian Meteorological Institute has calculated the pollutant concentrations and depositions based on NOx emissions from LDDVs from different countries and model years provided by IIASA. IIASA has also made the health effect calculations.

This map shows the concentration of fine particulate matter due to excess NOx emissions from diesel cars, vans and light commercial vehicles across Europe. Blue colours indicate low concentrations, orange and red indicates high extra pollution. Unit: microgram PM2.5 per cubic metre, annual average 2013.
Number of premature deaths due to excess NOx emissions from diesel cars, vans and light commercial vehicles in Europe (left column). Almost 50% could be have been avoided if diesel emission limits had been respected on the road (center column). Almost 80% could have been avoided had diesel cars emitted no more NOx than petrol cars (right column).