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VW diesel pollution

Volkswagen launched an extensive marketing campaign for their diesel engine cars claiming they were low emission vehicles. An investigation by the EPA discovered the software allowed the vehicles to pass emissions tests when, in reality, they were emitting between 10 and 40 times the permitted levels of harmful nitrogen oxides. These actions violated federal and state Clean Air Acts. We are managing $112.7 million in federal settlement funds, and $28 million in state settlement funds, to reduce air pollution from transportation. 

Health effects

Nitrogen oxides have harmful impacts on public health. In warm weather, hot sunlight bakes nitrogen oxides from cars and trucks together with other pollutants which forms harmful smog, also known as ground level ozone.

Smog aggressively attacks lung tissue and has harmful effects on peoples' health. You might think of it as sunburn on your lungs. Breathing smog can lead to several types of health problems such as:

A person's lungs.

Difficulty breathing and lung damage

Because of smog's effect on lung function, it can make deep breathing difficult, especially during exercise. Research has shown that ozone exposure can also damage the lining of your lungs.

Worsening asthma symptoms

If you suffer from asthma, being exposed to high levels of smog can trigger asthma attacks.

Coughing, throat, and chest irritation

High levels of ozone can irritate your respiratory system. These types of mild symptoms usually only last for a few hours after you've been exposed to smog. However, ozone can continue to harm your lungs even after symptoms disappear.

Health risks associated with nitrogen oxides 

The effects of nitrogen oxides can be significant. EPA uses an analysis tool to assess the health and economic impacts related to air quality. The tool calculates that a single year of elevated emissions from the affected VW vehicles could lead to as many as 50 premature deaths nationwide, 3,000 lost workdays, and $423 million in economic costs.

Where the affected vehicles were registered

Approximately 24,000 vehicles with the fraudulent software were registered in Washington when EPA and the Department of Justice discovered the scandal. We estimate about 87 percent of the affected vehicles are registered in 13 counties: Benton, Clark, Franklin, Island, Kitsap, King, Pierce, Skagit, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom, and Yakima. The remaining 13 percent are dispersed throughout the remaining 26 counties. The affected vehicles were on roadways beginning in 2005.

A map of Washington showing that the majority of affected VW vehicles are in urban areas and along interstate corridors.

View the text version of this map.

Areas affected by the pollution 

We maintain an extensive air monitoring network and inventory of air pollutants throughout the state. We track high levels of pollution. High concentrations of nitrogen oxides from diesel fuel are found in large population centers along our transportation corridors.

The map below shows the estimated nitrogen oxides emissions from: 

  • On-road vehicles (e.g., cars, trucks, semi-trucks).
  • Non-road vehicles/equipment (e.g., for construction, agriculture, airports). 
  • Marine vessels and pleasure craft, fuel use by various industries, and railroad equipment.
A map of Washington showing that most diesel pollution is in urban areas and along interstate and highway corridors.

View the text version of this map.