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Landmark Coroner Ruling Finds Child's Death Was Caused By Air Pollution

Landmark Coroner Ruling Finds Child's Death Was Caused By Air Pollution

It's the first time air pollution has been listed as a cause of death in the UK

Tom Wood

Tom Wood

A coroner has handed down a landmark verdict by ruling that the death of a nine-year-old girl was caused by air pollution.

Ella Kissi-Debrah died in 2013 from acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure, inner South London coroner Philip Barlow ruled.

He said that the young girl's death was partly caused because of levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) that were higher than the guidelines set down by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The primary source of those substances was traffic emissions.

Barlow said the failure to reduce pollution levels to under the legal limits could have contributed to Ella's death, as well as the failure to provide her mother with sufficient information about the potential for air pollution to aggravate asthma.

Ella's mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah.

Earlier today, Barlow said: "Ella died of asthma, contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution."

He went on to argue that nitrogen dioxide levels in Ella's home borough of Lewisham exceeded legal limits at both European Union and UK levels.

The amount of particulate matter in the air was above the WHO's recommended level.

The coroner continued: "The whole of Ella's life was lived in close proximity to highly polluting roads. I have no difficulty in concluding that her personal exposure to nitrogen dioxide and PM was very high."

This is the first ruling of its kind in the UK, and could prompt the government to take more serious action to reduce air pollution around the country.

The coroner went on the argue that the health effects of air pollution were well known, as well as the potential negative effects on children with severe forms of asthma, such as Ella.

Her mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, had fought for years to have Ella's death examined by a second coroner.

Lawyers acting for Kissi-Debrah had submitted that air pollution is a public health emergency and must be recorded as a cause of death to make sure public health programmes are brought to the forefront.

Ella lived very close to the South Circular road in Lewisham.

Prof Stephen Holgate, an immuno-pharmacologist and consultant respiratory physician from the University of Southampton and Southampton General Hospital, said Ella's asthma got worse over the winter months due to seasonal air pollution.

He also argued that a cause of her final asthma attack was the cumulative effects of living within 30 metres of London's South Circular road.

An inquest ruling from 2014 that found her death to be caused by acute respiratory failure has been quashed by the High Court following new evidence regarding air pollution.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, called the conclusion a 'landmark moment' and said that air pollution is a 'public health crisis'.

A government spokesperson said: "Our thoughts remain with Ella's family and friends.

"We are delivering a £3.8 billion plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 pollution and going further in protecting communities from air pollution, particularly PM2.5 pollution which we know is particularly harmful to people's health.

"Through our landmark Environment Bill, we are also setting ambitious new air quality targets, with a primary focus on reducing public health impacts."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Science, UK News, Health