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How Volkswagen Cheated Clean Air Act Emission Laws and Why the EPA Is Forcing VW to Recall Half a Million VW Passenger, Jetta, Beetle, Golf, and Audi A3 Cars

Photo of VW Beetle
(Photo : Tokumeigakarinoaoshima/Wikimedia/CC) A photo of a Volkswagen Beetle taken on February 24, 2015.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is cracking down on Volkswagen of America, Inc. for the second time in a decade for violating Clean Air Act standards. VW created and installed a "defeat device" in 2009-2015 vehicles to bypass lawful nitrogen oxide (NOx) regulations. VW is accused of violating standards which exist to protect local air quality and maintain clean and healthy air. The EPA is enforcing VW to recall nearly half a million diesel cars under section 207 of the Clean Air Act.

Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen of America, Inc. are mandated by the EPA to recall about 482,000 diesel cars. The list of cars that will be recalled by the manufacturer are the 2009-2015 Jetta, Beetle, Golf, and Audi A3. VW will also recall the 2014-2015 Passat. Nitrogen oxide emissions from these cars are up to 40 times higher than legal standards. The EPA is enforcing VW to fix the recalled vehicles for free, at zero cost to the owners.

"NOx pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with a range of serious health effects, including increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses that can be serious enough to send people to the hospital," stated the EPA. "Exposure to ozone and particulate matter have also been associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk for health effects of these pollutants."

The EPA issued a notice of violation to Volkswagen on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015 for producing a selling four-cylinder diesel cars installed with a “defeat device.” The defeat device is described as a “sophisticated software algorithm” that bypasses the EPA’s emission tests on harmful pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides. The defeat device is embedded in the software code that runs the engine control computer and cannot be turned off. The defeat device “detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only during the test.”

The cars meet standards in testing stations, but during normal driving situations, emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) at 10-40 times the legal standard. Exposure to NOx pollutants is correlated to serious health effects, such as asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases that can hospitalize people.

“Vehicles emit an array of pollutants. EPA standards control the allowable emission levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, and certain toxic chemicals,” stated the EPA on Friday morning. “The VW defeat device affects the way the NOx control system operates, resulting in higher NOx emission levels from these vehicles than from vehicles with properly operating emission controls. NOx emission levels are 10 – 40 times higher than emission standards.”

Owners of aforementioned models will receive a recall notice from VW within one year. The notice will include information and instructions on how to attain necessary repairs for free. The EPA will not confiscate cars and assured that the vehicles are still safe and legal to drive or resell. Although the vehicles have a defeat device, they are not a safety hazard, according to the EPA. The cars will not fail emission tests, as the defeat device installed in the cars were designed to bypass the tests.

“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious matters.”

The presence of the defeat device was uncovered by the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) after running an analysis on the vehicles at West Virginia University. Questions were raised by researchers about the emission levels of VW diesel cars. When the EPA and CARB demanded further explanation from VW, the manufacturer admitted that its vehicles contained defeat devices.

“Working with US EPA we are taking this important step to protect public health thanks to the dogged investigations by our laboratory scientists and staff,” said Air Resources Board Executive Officer Richard Corey. “Our goal now is to ensure that the affected cars are brought into compliance, to dig more deeply into the extent and implications of Volkswagen’s efforts to cheat on clean air rules, and to take appropriate further action.”

Tags Volkswagen, Beetle, EPA, Environmental Protection Agency

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