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Health groups criticise government report on diesel emissions for denying health impacts


Defeat devices in diesel vehicles have been causing unduly high emission rates of nitrous oxides, which cause serious effects on public health in Germany. According to health experts these effects have been negated, and important aspects have been omitted in the final report of the 5th investigative commission of the German parliament on this subject which is due to be debated by deputies on Friday 30 June. Health groups are thus calling on delegates to reject the report in its current version and are stressing a special responsibility of policymakers to reduce the health burden.

Commenting on the report Julia Gogolewska, Senior Policy Officer at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), said: ”The final report downplays the damage caused by defeat devices. The health effects from these undue emissions can in fact be quantified in view of the current level of scientific understanding. And the German government has to accept that its response to the revelations about defeat devices will be judged against these numbers.”

In a statement sent to the German parliamentarians the day after the report of the committee was published, four public health and scientific associations had dissented the report’s conclusions on the health effects. In their common statement, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) together with the European Respiratory Society (ERS), the European Council of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE), as well as the German Society of Hygiene, Environmental and Public Health Sciences (GHUP) stressed that the health effects of nitrogen dioxide were well documented by scientific literature.

“The report loses its objectivity by negating the evidence for health effects from nitrogen dioxide, which have been reported by a large number of epidemiological studies from various countries, arriving at similar conclusions. In addition, evidence from toxicology has not been considered in the report”, said Prof Barbara Hoffmann of the ERS. “It is incomprehensible how the committee arrived at conclusions that are at odds with the expert opinion of the German federal environment agency, the World Health Organization and further expert bodies.”

The expert statement is based on the full body of scientific literature from the fields of epidemiology and toxicology as well as recent reviews by the World Health Organization as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency. The latter two confirmed that especially the association between short-term exposure with nitrogen dioxide and increased mortality and hospital admissions as well as higher risks of respiratory diseases such as asthma were well documented and plausibly explained by toxicological evidence. Even concentrations well below the current legal limit for nitrogen dioxide of 40µg/m3 would be relevant. According to newest reports by the German federal environment agency the legal limit is being exceeded at more than half of urban monitoring stations at traffic hot spots. Especially the high emissions of nitrous oxides from traffic were an important cause. Other studiesrecently released had attributed specific numbers of premature deaths to the excess nitrous oxide emissions due to defeat devices.


Contact: Julia Gogolewska, Senior Policy Officer, HEAL Tel (DE mobile): +49 176 30765177, Email:

Notes to the editor:

Nitrous oxides are formed during combustion processes and encompass as dominant fractions the gases nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as well as nitrogen monoxide (NO), often summed up as NOx. The final report of the 5th investigative committee of the German parliament on the topic of excess emissions due to defeat devices evaluates the relevance of the emissions for human health. It states for example: “From an epidemiological perspective an association between deaths and specific NO2 exposure in the sense of adequate causality has not been proven.” as well as “In Germany there are no toxicologically relevant NO2 levels in public areas.” However, the World Health Organization concluded in its 2013 review of the scientific literature: „Many studies, not previously considered, or published since 2004, have documented associations between day-to-day variations in NO2 concentration and variations in mortality, hospital admissions, and respiratory symptoms. Also, more studies have now been published, showing associations between long-term exposure to NO2 and mortality and morbidity. Both short- and long-term studies have found these associations with adverse effects at concentrations that were at or below the current EU limit values,” while the US EPA in its literature review of 2016 said: “A causal relationship is determined for short-term NO2 exposure and respiratory effects.” as well as “There is likely to be a causal relationship between long-term NO2 exposure and respiratory effects based on the evidence for development of asthma.”

Resources Statement by HEAL ERS ISEE & GHUP on the report’s conclusions on health (German) Final report by the 5th investigative committee on excess emissions (German) Statement by Prof Annette Peters, Helmholtz research centre Munich (German) WHO 2013 REVIHAAP technical report US EPA 2016 Integrated Science Assessment for Oxides of Nitrogen – Health Criteria Umweltbundesamt: Stickoxide: Emissionen gesunken, Belastung immer noch zu hoch (German) Nature Letters: Impacts and mitigation of excess diesel-related NOx emissions in 11 major vehicle markets Environmental Research Letters: Public health impacts of excess NOx emissions from Volkswagen diesel passenger vehicles in Germany

Originally posted on 28 June 2017

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


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