Stormy times for the German company.

A new report from Columbia University Medical Center has found that the Volkswagen software scam that deactivated emission control of nitrogen oxides in close to half-a-million US cars could lead to up to 50 deaths, 3000 lost work days and $560 million in economic losses. The news comes as investors this week announced damages claims of up to $12 billion in about 1400 lawsuits lodged at a German court.

The report was released on the anniversary of the VW scandal, and looks at the increase in NOx emissions attributable to the non-compliant cars in the US market over a single year.

Using three scenarios (best, midpoint and worst) it found that premature deaths resulting from additional NOx was between five and 50, lost work days between 687 and 2946, and economic losses between AU$58 million and $561 million.

“It is well established in scientific literature that nitrogen oxides contribute to respiratory and cardiovascular disease leading to disability and death,” lead author Dr Lifang Hou said.

The majority of the estimated costs related to the economic impact of premature deaths.

While the authors said the estimates were rough, they said the actual effects were likely to be worse than reported, because the study only looked at one year of operation, when most non-compliant vehicles had been on the road for longer. Additionally, only about 482,000 2.0-litre models were looked at, not any of the 3.0 litre models on the road. The results also do not incorporate the link between NOx and ozone, which is a health risk and greenhouse gas.

Professor Andrea Baccarelli from Columbia’s Mailman School said emissions of NOx from the VW vehicles was up to 40 times higher than EPA standards, leading to 15,000 tons of the chemicals added to the air each year.

“It’s crucial that Americans and the government officials they serve know the extent of the damage done to public health and the economy,” he said.

In June VW agreed to set aside about $US14.7 billion (AU$19.5b) to deal with the scandal, with most funds to go into taking affected cars of the road or retrofitting them.

AU$3.6 billion will go into environmental cleanup and $2.7b into initiatives for zero-carbon vehicles.

However, with institutional investors suing VW for failing to alert them to the scandal quickly enough, and criminal charges and civil penalties related to violations of the Clean Air Act in the US, costs are expected to rise.