Federal Settlement Targets Illegal Emission Control

by : Anthony Fontanelle

The Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a landmark settlement requiring Casper's Electronics, of Mundelein, Ill., to pay a penalty and stop selling devices that allow cars to release excess levels of pollution into the environment, in violation of the Clean Air Act.

The settlement requires Casper's to stop selling electronic devices dubbed as oxygen sensor simulators or "O2 Sims," to recall the devices, and pay more than $74,000 in civil penalties to the nation. An O2 Sim tricks an automobile engine's computer into sensing a properly functioning emission control system, even when the catalytic converter is missing or faulty. These "after-market" sensors are considered illegal "defeat devices" under the federal CAA.

Since 2001, Casper's has sold about 44,000 defeat devices through retailers and from its Web site. The EPA estimates that the increased emissions from installation of these devices over the life of the vehicles are 7,400 tons of hydrocarbons, 347,000 tons of carbon monoxide, and 6,000 tons of nitrogen oxides. This is equivalent to the emissions produced by a half- million cars with fully operational emission control systems.

"Emission control defeat devices, like those used here, risk harming human health and the environment by allowing huge increases in pollutants from motor vehicles," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce all of the provisions of the Clean Air Act -- including its rule against these devices -- against violators, including those using the Internet to illegally sell their wares."

An oxygen sensor simulator sends a false electronic signal to the car's engine control computer, preventing the "check engine" or "malfunction indicator" light from functioning. The malfunction light alerts the driver when there is a problem with the emission control system.

Casper's O2 Sims allowed vehicle owners to remove or disable the catalytic converter without the OBD system detecting the problem and turning on the check engine light. The CAA prohibits the manufacture and sale of any devices that bypass or defeat required pollution control equipment on motor vehicles. Vehicles with defeat devices can emit up to 50 times the amount of harmful pollution emitted by vehicles with properly functioning emission controls.

"Reliable and effective automobile pollution control systems are essential to protect human health and the environment from harmful automobile emissions," said Granta Nakayama, the EPA's Assistant Administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "Casper's sale of the oxygen sensor simulator defeat devices over a multi-year period is a serious violation because it facilitated the removal or malfunctioning of motor vehicle catalytic converters, which are the primary emission controls devices to prevent excessive pollution from cars and trucks."

The EPA is currently investigating other auto parts manufacturers and sellers that may also be making and selling comparable products. The federal agency has found that some companies are advertising O2 Sims and other defeat devices as a way to enhance auto performance.

Air emissions from cars include harmful pollutants like non-methane hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, key ingredients in the production of ozone, a major component of urban smog. Tailpipe emissions also include carbon monoxide, which impairs breathing. Both ozone and carbon monoxide are especially harmful to children, people with asthma and the elderly. This is why the government intends to put to halt the emissions the like the efficient .

The mandated recall requires Casper's to implement a mandatory repurchase program under which it must notify its purchasers that the company will buy back any O2 Sims sold and create and implement a reporting system to ensure future compliance.