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38,000 People a Year Die Early Because of Diesel Emissions Testing Failures (theverge.com) 194

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Diesel cars, trucks, and other vehicles in more than 10 countries around the world produce 50 percent more nitrogen oxide emissions than lab tests show, according to a new study. The extra pollution is thought to have contributed to about 38,000 premature deaths in 2015 globally. In the study, published today in Nature, researchers compared emissions from diesel tailpipes on the road with the results of lab tests for nitrogen oxides (NOx). The countries where diesel vehicles were tested are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S., where more than 80 percent of new diesel vehicle sales occurred in 2015. The researchers found that 5 million more tons of NOx were emitted than the lab-based 9.4 million tons, according to the Associated Press. Nitrogen oxides are released into the air from motor vehicle exhaust or the burning of coal and fossil fuels, producing tiny soot particles and smog. Breathing in all this is linked to heart and lung diseases, including lung cancer, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, which took part in the research. Governments routinely test new diesel vehicles to check whether they meet pollution limits. The problem is that these tests fail to mimic real-life driving situations, and so they underestimate actual pollution levels. The researchers estimate that the extra pollution is linked to about 38,000 premature deaths worldwide in 2015 -- mostly in the European Union, China, and India. (The U.S. saw an estimated 1,100 deaths from excess NOx.)
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38,000 People a Year Die Early Because of Diesel Emissions Testing Failures

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  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Monday May 15, 2017 @10:37PM (#54423963)
    Considering that most Americans have less than $10,000 saved, dying early might actually be a good thing.
  • Not too bad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Haxzaw ( 1502841 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @10:39PM (#54423973)
    38,000 out of nearly 8 billion is hardly worth worrying about.
    • Re:Not too bad (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @10:59PM (#54424043) Homepage

      You're downvoted but really, that's something like 0.00005% of the population.

      More people probably drown in their bathtubs.

      • Re:Not too bad (Score:4, Insightful)

        by h33t l4x0r ( 4107715 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @11:52PM (#54424219)
        On the other hand, that's like 12 9/11's.
      • Re:Not too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Tuesday May 16, 2017 @12:28AM (#54424319)

        To put it in perspective, there are 6 million deaths per year caused by smoking.

        That's one Jewish-part-of-the-holocaust every year.

        • Dude, comparing holocaust victims to smoking victims, of all the parallels...

          • I know, I know, but I have no other easy point of reference for 6 million deaths. "It's a Napoleonic Wars every year!" or "It's four Great Purges every year!" doesn't have the same ring to it.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          These days smoking related illness is mostly self-inflicted thanks to reduced passive smoking. Can you see the similarity with diesel emissions?

          Anyway, eventually the evidence became so overwhelming on tobacco that people were able to sue the manufacturers (who knew what they were doing) and in countries with socialized healthcare get appropriate taxes placed on it. I imagine diesel vehicle manufacturers are keen to avoid something similar happening to them.

          • These days smoking related illness is mostly self-inflicted thanks to reduced passive smoking.

            Not worldwide, it isn't.

        • To put it in perspective, there are 6 million deaths per year caused by smoking.

          That's one Jewish-part-of-the-holocaust every year.

          #1 If you're going to make holocaust comparisons keep in mind where this scandal originated.

          #2 The affect on everyone's health are worth considering more than the relative handful that can be more definitively related to this as a cause of death. Diesel cars and Dieselgate is everywhere, it was pretty obvious before the scandal because it stinks, but we've been breathing that shit in as pedestrians for decades... i'm a young healthy individual, but it will definitely have damaged my lungs, I can't quantify

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        That's the number who die. The number who have poorer health but survive is many, many times that number.

        If you want to put it in purely economic terms, the knock on effect (lost productivity) is going to be pretty hefty too. Also, the only thing that stops those victims suing and getting rich is the difficulty in proving the causal link.

      • The real worry is 2.75 million* die as a result of laws enacted on the basis of stupid, fake science, and bad maths.

        * estimate based unreliable pseudo-random number generator written in GWBASIC.

      • And people who die to diesel emissions mostly lose just a view years of their life, while people who drown in bathtubs can be much younger.
    • Um, no... (Score:1, Interesting)

      by thesupraman ( 179040 )

      Because its not 38,000..
      Its 'researchers (who want this to matter) 'estimate' it to be 38,000. Here is how this works.

      They take the number of people who die from ANYTHING that can be distantly LINKED to this, and pick a number less than that.
      Since this is 'linked' to almost any lung condition..... (not through any actual evidence of course, just because it is 'obvious' - it probably
      does have an effect of course, and the magnitude is anyone's guess, because it would be impossible to actually measure..)

      In fac

      • Further, there are multiple oxides of Nitrogen.

        Nitric oxide [wikipedia.org], NO, is used by the body as a regeneration signal. An acquaintance has a job designing NO generators for battlefield use, either as part of an O2 delivery system (to help injured lungs) or to be directly applied to burned skin (to help with regeneration). He's associated with MGH in Boston. They will probably be seeing use in civilian hospitals in a couple of years.

        The other oxides dissolve in water to form acids, but NO is actually beneficial.

        I wo

      • Uhm, yeah (Score:5, Informative)

        by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Tuesday May 16, 2017 @01:01AM (#54424403)

        Here is how this works.

        You didn't read the paper. I did.

        The basic idea in the method is that they ran a number of simulations of where diesel vehicles are estimated to be driving in the 11 jurisdictions (based on real-world measurements), where emissions would end up being carried (and dissipated) by the atmosphere, and matching that up with population estimates. This was then applied to the current best estimates of the exposure-response curves to get an estimate of the number of deaths.

        They ran with measured emissions to validate that it matches up with measured death rates. Then they reran with "theoretical" emissions (i.e. if the vehicle emissions actually were what they were supposed to be) and subtracted the two. Actually, they probably ran the simulation multiple times to get a confidence interval; more on this later.

        NOx, ozone, and PM2.5 ("soot") were accounted for separately. This is clear from the paper, but not clear from the

        The model was validated against real-world studies to make sure that it matched what we find in the field.

        Now, if you're thinking that's a lot of assumptions, you're right. The 95% confidence interval is 23,000–47,000, which is quite a wide margin of error. Again, that is not clear from the writeup, but it's clear from the paper.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Also, the study does say 'contributed to' or 'linked to' and not 'caused' the premature deaths. So we don't know how many it caused (as the erroneous title here suggests)

          • It caused 0 deaths. It's not that you can't kill someone directly with NOx, sure you can if you subject them to enough direct exposure. But that's not how it works in practice. In reality [wikipedia.org], it "may cause or worsen respiratory diseases, such as emphysema or bronchitis, or may also aggravate existing heart disease" and "readily reacts with common organic chemicals, and even ozone, to form a wide variety of toxic products" which in turn do the same sorts of things. NOx pollution didn't directly kill anyone; it

        • It's a report with nebulous numbers in search of OMG! headlines in order to elicit more funding. Obvious.
          • It'd be much easier to get funding if scientists just concluded whatever the Koch Brothers wanted them to.

        • The problem with all that is real-world concentrations of NOx in the atmosphere are below the toxicity level. There's an LC0 and an LD50; LC0 indicates the level where zero of a population experience any toxic effect. Humans have a pretty good antioxidant delivery system--if Sprague-Dawley rats had similar, they wouldn't live long enough to get cancer (they only live 2 years, although they might live 3-5 instead with less NOx-induced CNS damage)--hence why so much shit doesn't bother us.

          By the way, asc

          • Hi there, I'm a co-author on the paper being discussed, here to clear up some confusion. bluefoxlucid is correct that the concentrations of NOx owing to diesel emission are not high enough to be very harmful, and that the main health concern associated with air pollution is the formation of fine particulates (smaller than 2.5 micron). However, you're missing an understanding of atmospheric chemistry -- NOx reacts with other compound in the atmosphere to form nitric acid (HNO3), which lead to particulate
      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        Dirty engines kill millions, the estimate for the UK alone is over 50,000 per year.

      • I figure the ran a ton of linear regressions and found a correlation between nitrous oxides and early deaths - like for every 1 ton increase there are 3 more deaths. Or, going by the numbers in the article, .0076 deaths per ton, or 131.57 tons per death.

        I'm not very convinced by those numbers .

    • Re:Not too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ichijo ( 607641 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @11:22PM (#54424113) Homepage Journal

      38,000 out of nearly 8 billion is hardly worth worrying about.

      I wasn't aware that there are 8 billion deaths per year globally.

    • Re:Not too bad (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @11:41PM (#54424187) Homepage Journal

      Of course by that argument murder doesn't really matter either.

      Lives are extremely valuable, even though every single one of them ends in a relatively short time. Even an individual life is valuable.

      Now it so happens that every policy ends up killing people. If you build a bridge, statistically a certain number of workers will die on the project. The difference between building a bridge and murder is that the bridge has social benefits as well as costs, and in fact some of those benefits are denominated in lives prolonged.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    but if those people had such serious breathing problems, weren't they going to die soon anyway? I know when I worked IT for Univ of Washington hospital that most of the people that trouble breathing because of the pollution in Seattle didn't do much better after moving to the middle of nowhere.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This to a point. I hate to say it, but dying a few days or weeks early is not a good measurement. How many healthy people are affected by this is a better measurement. My grandmother was considered a victim of mesothelioma because she worked in a plant that made asbestos shingles, but she died at 93. We should measure the effect in years of loss of expected life rather than in just pure numbers.

  • A. 'is thought to' does not mean 'is'
    B. 'contributed to' does not mean 'caused'

    I call bologna.

  • It's important to keep in mind that this is only an estimate, expressed as a round number. That doesn't mean that it's wrong, or that we should disregard it, it just means that we shouldn't take it too literally.
  • And in the same period, how many people died as a result of pollution from ordinary gasoline automotive emissions? Smog is a huge problem in the world but it's not all diesel engines. Removing diesels may help the problem but people are still going to die from health complications because of smog even if everyone just ran gasoline engines. So the deaths are tragic, but at the same time I'm not convinced they are statistically significant as a sole driver of public policy.

    Reminds me of the classic scene f

    • And in the same period, how many people died as a result of pollution from ordinary gasoline automotive emissions?

      The question you should be asking is: How accurate are the emissions tests for "ordinary" automobiles?

      Because that's what the paper is trying to estimate. Not how many people are killed by vehicle emissions, but how many people are killed by inaccurate vehicle emission testing.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It's time to just accept that emissions testing is never going to work right and will always be cheated, so it's just push for zero emission vehicles and move the problem away from population centres to places where it can be more easily controlled and mitigated.

      • It's time to just accept that emissions testing is never going to work right and will always be cheated,

        As I read the article (not having read the referred-to paper):

        This wasn't about cheating. This was about the government-prescribed test cycles not correctly modelling the actual average driving cycle of the world's fleet of vehicles, the academic's model of the actual fleet emissions being somewhat off, the error happening to be on the low side, and recent measurements updating the model.

        The mandated emi

        • Fast forward a couple generations of executives and you find:
          - A German automaker with executives who decided that cheating was the way to go, and actually detected whether there was a driver (e.g. steering wheel moving) and did the same cycle differently.
          - An American automaker (the former big-three company I didn't work for
          back in the day, now owned by an Italian automaker) accused of cheating because they didn't do as well in some extreme conditions outside the testing regi

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Sure, what I mean is that while testing did in fact lead to vast improvements during a time period where there was no viable alternative, we should now accept that they have reached the limits of what we can achieve with them. In fact we got there a long time ago, for more than a decade the gains have been largely in the test environment, not real life.

  • damn it all (Score:3, Informative)

    by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @11:06PM (#54424061) Journal
    https://www.nasa.gov/topics/ea... [nasa.gov]

    According to a new paper by Ott and Pickering in the Journal of Geophysical Research, each flash of lightning on average in the several mid-latitude and subtropical thunderstorms studied turned 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) of nitrogen into chemically reactive NOx. "In other words, you could drive a new car across the United States more than 50 times and still produce less than half as much NOx as an average lightning flash," Ott estimated. The results were published July.

    When the researchers multiplied the number of lightning strokes worldwide by 7 kilograms, they found that the total amount of NOx produced by lightning per year is 8.6 terragrams, or 8.6 million metric tons. "That's somewhat high compared to previous estimates," said Pickering.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    One estimate is that 24,000 people are killed by lightning strikes around the world each year and about 240,000 are injured. Another estimate is that the annual global death toll is 6,000.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by kamapuaa ( 555446 )

      Right, the problem is large cities with poor ventilation where the NOx is in very high concentration.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No, the problem is too many idiots with PhD's assume that biological systems react linearly. Really, 1,100 "premature deaths"? I call bullshit. The number has to be either a whole lot higher or effectively zero, unless there's a group of people who are living in one spectacularly bad place.

        No, biological systems don't respond linearly to toxins.

    • Re:damn it all (Score:4, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @11:36PM (#54424173) Homepage Journal

      OK, I'll keep this short: the half life of nitric oxide in the atmosphere is 100 hours. So basically your observation that automotive emissions don't match global natural emissions of NO is true, but irrelevant.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Lightning produces NOx in the upper atmosphere. Diesels produce it down here where we have to be able to breathe.

      But you knew that.

      • by fnj ( 64210 )

        Lightning occurs at VARIOUS altitudes, champ. From the ground up to the stratosphere.

  • 41000 died (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    From dubious statistical extrapolations.

  • And here we have an idiot as president that wants to encourage burning coal. Yes, soot and air pollution murder people and whether it is from diesel, gasoline or coal it is nothing more than murder. But the right wing goes even further. Once they give a person heart disease or cancer from burning coal they also don't want them to have medical care. They excuse all this nonsense as a monetary issue. But nobody counts the costs associated with heart or lung cripples and the long term disabilities th
    • But the right wing goes even further. Once they give a person heart disease or cancer from burning coal they also don't want them to have medical care. They excuse all this nonsense as a monetary issue. But nobody counts the costs associated with heart or lung cripples and the long term disabilities that eat up the national budget. One sick person can run up millions in public expenses.

      That's exactly why we can't afford to have universal healthcare! We gotta drill, baby, drill and you want death panels! #Palin2012! ;)

    • by judoguy ( 534886 )

      One sick person can run up millions in public expenses.

      Why? That's the part I've never understood. Why should *your* illness cost *me* anything?

      • The economy as a whole is a labor trade with a maximum carry capacity. When you increase production rate, you eventually hit a maximum scale, beyond which you require more labor per unit good produced (scarcity), and the cost goes up. Create a technology that scales better (e.g. GMOs produce more yield on the same land area with the same fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation, planting, and harvesting) and your carry capacity goes up.

        So your entire economy can produce and buy a certain amount of stuff.

        Then

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Smoking causes 7 million premature deaths per year.
    Second-hand smoke alone causes 900 000 premature deaths per year.

    Not saying emission rules are not important and should not be enforced, but some perspective is important when making rules.

    • some perspective is important when making rules

      No, No, a thousand times NO. Knee-jerk reactions are what gets you elected!

    • Second-hand smoke is not scientifically-demonstrated to cause any health problems whatsoever in adults. Every once in a while, someone comes up with a study showing a weak potential link; these typically fail peer review, and generally only go around in circles while scientists conclude that they're still not able to show any real impact from second-hand smoke at all.

      Children in smoking households who breathe the stuff constantly may have trouble from smoke particles. They don't get to inhale high-temp

  • This is why I keep coming back here. There's nothing more entertaining than a good tar and feathering of a bad claim. Keep up the good work guys!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sorry to burst the bubble of dishonesty over some activist hack's head, but there's no "there" there.

    This is typical statistical garbage rather than real data. Is there a correlation between bad air and people dying from respiratory failure? Almost certainly - HOWEVER there is not a specific direct link in any of those deaths. This is unlike the statisical case against cigarettes. In the case of cigarettes we know the mechanisms, the hows and the whys, and we can pin the names of actual individuals and conn

  • Although here in the U.S., we do have a problem with excessive Vin Diesel emissions.

  • Well, we already have had fun, seeing some other comments. If you haven't already reached your fun quotient, consider this:

    38,000 People a Year Die Early Because of:
    crotchrot
    Buffalo Shuffles
    inseptivated conjunctimonius
    piffle
    Glaubner's disease
    aggravated slashdot readeromious

  • If some publication is going to write about a scientific article, shouldn't they get a journalist with some vague understanding of science to do the writing? Just as an example, this kind of leaps out at the reader:

    "Nitrogen oxides are released into the air from motor vehicle exhaust or the burning of coal and fossil fuels, producing tiny soot particles and smog."

    Soot is carbon. NOx does not contain carbon, nor can it create carbon. Also, what is the difference between "motor vehicle exhaust" and "burning f

    • "Nitrogen oxides are released into the air from motor vehicle exhaust or the burning of coal and fossil fuels, producing tiny soot particles and smog."

      NOx does not contain carbon, nor can it create carbon.

      He doesn't say that it does. It is atrociously clumsy writing though; he's basically mixed two things together. s/producing/which also produces/ and it makes a lot more sense.

  • An emissions test does not have to emulate real world driving conditions; it only has to have a relationship to real world driving conditions and provided a standard baseline to check whether a vehicle is in good repair.

  • The European Union is not a country. It's actually 28 countries.
  • Where we declare coal to be a good thing and diesel engines to be a bad thing.

    Maybe we should build cars with steam engines? Would that be Zeitgeist enough for you?

  • Stop the lightning.

    Reducing emissions like NOx makes sense in places like the Los Angeles basin where there is reduced air circulation and concentrated population centers. But it literally makes no sense in other areas where CO and HC emissions need to be targeted, even at the expense of some more NOx.

    When I search for articles about NOx, I find information about the nitrogen cycle and how plants depend, in part, on the NOx produced in the atmosphere by lightning. So, it's plant food.

  • 0

    No one died. In order to get to this number, the researchers had to tap dance with numbers and forget to consult with wmbriggs.com

    Doing that might have reduced the chance of their next paycheck though.

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