BY KRIS PRICE
On September 18th, the Environmental Protection Agency declared that Volkswagen had violated the Clean Air Act through the software of Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) diesel engine, used in the group’s last six car models. This engine software was programmed so that the US standards nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions were only met during laboratory tests – in commercial use, the cars produced up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides.
This has dealt a painful blow to Volkswagen, which advertised its TDI engine with the slogan “Clean Diesel.” It is true that diesel fuel is much more efficient than regular gas, however, diesel vehicles emit higher levels of nitrogen oxides. High concentrations of nitrogen oxides have been negatively associated in scientific studies with a decrease in lung function among young children.
In fact, dozens of people are already estimated to have been killed due to diseases associated with respiratory problems, such as asthma, by this practice of faking emission tests alone.
This prioritizing of profits over the quality of human life disgusts me, especially as someone who had breathing problems as a small child, but what really ticks me off is the painful irony of their slogan “Clean Diesel.” ‘Clean’ seems to have all the meaning sucked out of it by marketing departments, along with other words associated with environmental friendliness, like ‘Green’ and ‘Eco’. This has made it harder and harder to find products that actually have a lower carbon footprint.
Nitrogen oxide pollution does not affect humans alone either. Nitrogen oxide emissions also disrupt the nitrogen cycle, which is in some ways even more important than the carbon cycle, since most of our atmosphere is nitrogen.
One of the most notable effects of this is the increase in ‘dead zones’ in the Chesapeake Bay. A ‘dead zone’ is created when a body of water is saturated with nutrients, many of which are formed from nitrogen oxides. This saturation often causes ‘red tides’ or algal blooms, where the phyto-plankton population in the water explodes.
These plankton often concentrate themselves near the surface of the water, blocking sunlight for any aquatic plants that might need it. Once the plankton die, their decomposing bodies ‘suck up’ all the remaining oxygen in the body of water, asphyxiating any animals that might be living in it. As someone who grew up in the state of Maryland, this kind of issue really matters to me. A lot of the state’s maritime culture centers on the Chesapeake Bay, but if everything in the bay is dead, that spells disaster for the state’s tourism and fishing economies.
Since then the CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, said he was not aware of any wrongdoing, he has taken responsibility by stepping down. Many analysts believe that Winterkorn, being an engineer himself, either must have known about the faked emission tests, or failed to properly oversee his company.
Volkswagen’s stock prices have already severely plummeted. However, no amount of money lost can repair the damage already done (an estimated 11 million Volkswagen cars worldwide) including some half a million in the United States, are believed to have had this fraudulent engine programming.