WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia University researchers were more than just “California Dreamin'” upon heading out west last year, as their work would help show several Volkswagen and Audi vehicles allegedly emitted pollution up to 40 times the level allowed by the federal Clean Air Act.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice to the German automaker claiming that about diesel versions of the Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat, as well as the Audi A3, violated the air pollution standards. The firm must recall about 482,000 of these vehicles manufactured from from 2009 onward to repair the emissions systems.
The parent company, Volkswagen AG, also owns Audi, Bentley, Porsche and several other vehicle brands.
Officials with WVU’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions received $50,000 from the International Council on Clean Transportation to conduct the testing that ultimately led to the EPA decree.
“We took our team to California to do the research because we would find more diesel passenger cars there,” Dan Carder, director of the center at WVU, said. “The International Council had seen high emission levels in Europe, so they wanted to see what they would find in the U.S.”
Carder said his group is not the only agency with the equipment needed to perform the testing, but said his the team has a solid reputation of evaluating emissions since 1989. He said the center regularly works for both manufacturers and regulators, as researchers there simply share their findings without bias.
“Some of the reports said we were some kind of an environmental advocacy group, but that’s not the case,” he said.
In a joint statement from the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, the organizations confirmed using WVU’s research as the basis for their findings. The regulators allege Volkswagen used a “defeat device” to allow the vehicles to meet the Clean Air Act standards during a test. However, under regular driving conditions, the engines produced up to 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxides, or NOx. Officials believe exposure to this material increases one’s chances of an asthma attack or other respiratory and cardiovascular health problems.
“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 at EPA, said. “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.”