Volkswagen, one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers, has taken a huge hit this week as its engine emissions testing fraud comes to light. Stock prices have dropped nearly 20 per cent and billions in penalties potentially await. But the real cost is not restricted to the company’s reputation and bottomline- this is a matter of human health and the environment suffering from criminally concealed pollution.

Air pollution is a significant burden on human health globally. In 2013 the World Health Organization listed air pollution as a carcinogen, and nitrogen dioxide from vehicle exhaust pipes is a contributor to asthma and lung disease.

The Volkswagen vehicles rigged to deceive auto exhaust tests emit up to forty times Canada’s national standard for nitrogen dioxide.

Every year, an estimated 250 Canadians die from asthma. It is a disease that affects 8.5 per cent of Canadians age 12 and over. And that’s just one of the respiratory conditions that nitrogen dioxide exposure can cause or worsen.

Volkswagen wilfully cheated the system in order to exceed a standard that was put in place to protect human health and the environment. And now we hope they will have to pay the price. But the financial costs the company faces can scarcely be compared to the impacts lung diseases and respiratory problems have on the lives of Canadians.

The US government has issued a recall order affecting nearly half a million cars. A recall should be issued in Canada too. According to the Globe and Mail, 107,000 Volkswagen diesel engine cars in Canada are affected. A stop sale order has been issued by the company but so far no recall has been required by the Canadian government.

Environmental Defence calls on Environment Canada and Transport Canada to take swift action. This type of deception sets a bad example at a time when companies should be making strides in reducing air pollution. It’s time to initiate enforcement action and set the right kind of example: it is up to Environment Canada to demonstrate that deceiving regulators in order to pollute the air with harmful contaminants is unacceptable.