Zero Deaths from VW Diesel Scandal

Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images
Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images

MIT researchers are claiming that Volkswagen’s diesel emissions shenanigans have killed 60 unidentified Americans. They further claim that unless VW fixes the emissions problem by the end of 2016, another 130 unidentified people will bite the dust. This is all nonsense.

The study is based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims that airborne particulate matter (e.g., soot from smokestacks and tailpipes) and ground-level ozone (i.e., smog) kill people. The EPA’s claims are entirely fraudulent. EPA knows it. Congress knows it. Industry knows it. I know it because I’ve taken the time to investigate and even to litigate them.

The particulate matter (PM) at issue is about one-twentieth the width of a human hair in diameter. EPA has essentially determined PM to be the most toxic substance known to man. EPA scientific documents say there is no safe exposure to PM–i.e., any inhalation of PM can cause death, both in the short-term (hours or days) or in the long-term (decades of exposures). This claim has been repeated numerous times by numerous EPA officials. Former EPA chief Lisa Jackson famously told Congress that, “Particulate matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick. It is directly causal to you dying sooner than you should.”

EPA says its claim of PM’s lethality is supported by three lines of evidence: human population studies (epidemiology), animal toxicology and human clinical studies (human experiments).

EPA’s epidemiology studies are highly controversial. All rely on exceedingly weak statistical correlations between dubious air monitoring data and death rates. All were funded by EPA and then rubber-stamped as science by the very same EPA-paid researchers. EPA has refused Congressional requests and even a subpoena to produce the studies’ raw data for independent review. EPA also famously ignores studies with contrary results. But past these controversies, EPA admitted in federal litigation with me over PM that, “Epidemiologic studies do not generally provide evidence of direct causation” between exposure and disease. Strike one.

EPA’s animal toxicology studies are unhelpful to EPA, since no animal has ever died during them despite animals being exposed to PM at levels hundreds of times greater than humans would ever inhale. Strike two.

EPA has conducted human clinical studies of PM for the express purpose of attempting to validate its epidemiology. It does this by pumping PM, including diesel exhaust from a running truck, into the lungs of human subjects.

These human guinea pigs have included the elderly and the sick, who EPA says are the most vulnerable to PM. EPA has exposed these people to levels of PM up to 21 times greater than the maximum EPA allows in outdoor air and 75 times greater than measured in typical outdoor air. But no human test subject has ever died or even experienced a health effect traceable to PM. Strike three.

But let’s be generous and give EPA a fourth swing—one at reality. What do real-world exposures to PM tell us?

In the real world, underground miners and diesel equipment operators can be exposed to PM at levels a thousand times higher than in outdoor air on a career basis. Not only do these workers not simply keel over and die upon contact with of PM, they actually have a greater life expectancy than the average person breathing blue-sky clean air.

While the average person breathing typical outdoor air will inhale about 200 millionths of a gram of PM on a daily basis, a smoker may inhale 200 times more than that in 5 minutes. A pot smoker may inhale 900 times more PM from a single joint. Hookah bar smokers are off the charts in terms of PM exposure. Such smokers are also not known to keel over dead.

A nonsmoker will inhale about two sugar packets worth of PM over the course of his lifetime. But a smoker can inhale a four-pound sugar bag’s worth of PM (about 15 years of smoking a half-pack per day) and have the same life expectancy as the nonsmoker.

In Washington, D.C., life expectancy is about 76.5 years. But in Beijing, where PM levels are on average 10 times higher, life expectancy is three years greater. Strike four. EPA is out.

So what about ozone? So far we’ve only talked about PM. But you can just apply the exact same analysis done here for PM to ozone. There are no ozone-related deaths either. The epidemiology is inadequate. No animals, including the human guinea pigs, have died. There is not a recorded case of ambient ozone killing anyone under any circumstances.

As the claimed deaths from VW diesel emissions are entirely based on EPA’s bogus PM and ozone claims, the VW-related death claims are bogus as well. The reason all the alleged victims of VW diesel emissions are unidentified is because they are all statistical deaths — i.e., deaths that only occur in the minds and studies of dishonest researchers.

The facts related here without question underlie the largest but most underreported government regulatory science scandal of our time. The underreported part will soon change, however. They will be laid out in great detail in my forthcoming book on the scandal.

Steve Milloy publishes (Twitter @JunkScience).


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.