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Three Years After 'Dieselgate,' VW Fails Pollution Tests

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VW Golf TDI clean diesel at the 2010 Washington Auto Show. Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz / CC BY-SA 3.0

Volkswagen (VW) cars recalled and fixed after 2015's "dieselgate" emissions cheating scandal are still failing air pollution tests conducted by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), The AFP reported Monday.

AAA tested the cars outside of the laboratory and found that, while they emitted less than before the recall, they still exceeded Australia's legal limits.


"Emissions analysis ... found an affected VW diesel vehicle to be using up to 14 percent more diesel after recall, and still emitting noxious emissions more than 400 percent higher than levels observed in laboratory testing," an AAA statement said.

VW came under fire in 2015 when it was discovered that the company had installed a "defeat mechanism" in up to 11 million cars. The mechanism would ensure that the engine did not pollute during government tests, then enable the car to resume polluting when it sensed the tests were complete. Affected cars emitted up to 40 times the legal amount of nitrogen oxide when driven outside the laboratory.

According to the AAA, the results indicate that it is more accurate to conduct driving tests in real-world conditions than in controlled settings.

VW rejected the findings and told AFP that the updated cars "continue to satisfy European and Australian emissions standards."

Stakes are high for VW, which has already paid out $31 billion due to the scandal, but they are even higher for the health of humans and the environment.

Nitrogen oxide released from diesel combustion engines combines with the oxygen in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide, which can worsen respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis and cause acid rain, Scientific American explained in an article about the 2015 scandal.

However, the scandal also reinforced how much cars pollute even when they are not cheating or failing emissions tests.

Travis Bradford, director of Energy and Environment Concentration at Columbia University, told Scientific American that the modified VW vehicles had not added significantly to global pollution levels.

"Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, this is a drop in the bucket in terms of our aggregate pollution," Bradford said.

But that is more a condemnation of the status quo than a free pass for VW.

This year, a study published in Biological Psychiatry found that even levels of air pollution ruled "safe" by the European Union can impair fetal brain development, Medical Daily reported Monday.

When it comes to climate change, data published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that transportation, including cars and trucks, accounted for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

The era of the electric car can't come fast enough.

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