The German automaker's use of rigged software to evade emissions standards in more than 482,000 diesel cars in the U.S. goes beyond economic considerations and will have significant effects on public health, the study found.
Excess emissions from Volkswagen's so-called "defeat devices" will cause around 60 people in the U.S. to die 10 to 20 years prematurely, researchers said. It will also contribute directly to 31 cases of chronic bronchitis and 34 hospital admissions involving respiratory and cardiac conditions.
In addition, people will experience about 120,000 minor restricted-activity days, including work absences and around 210,000 lower-respiratory symptom days.
The study projects VW's excess emissions will generate $450 million in health expenses and other social costs.
"A total vehicle recall by the end of 2016 may save up to $840 million in further health and social costs," MIT said in a statement.
VW has not issued a recall for the affected cars and said recently that it is still working on a repair.
The affected vehicles include the 2009-'15 Volkswagen Jetta; 2009-'14 Jetta Sportwagen; 2012-'15 Beetle and Beetle convertible; 2010-'15 Audi A3; 2010-'15 Volkswagen Golf; 2015 Golf Sportwagen and 2012'15 Passat.
The vehicles produce up to 40 times the emissions allowed by law.
Edmunds says: The health implications of the VW diesel-emissions scandal are serious. Researchers say they want to keep the public and policy-makers informed about how the impact can be lessened if a recall is done quickly.