A coroner has made the history of justice when he ruled that air pollution was a cause of death for a nine-year-old girl.
Philip Barlow, the South London coroner, said Ella Kissi-Debrah’s death in February 2013 was due to acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and exposure to air pollution.
He said she was exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) pollution exceeding World Health Organization guidelines, the main source of which was emissions from traffic.
The coroner said that failure to reduce pollution levels to legal limits may have contributed to his death, as may failure to provide his mother with information about the potential for pollution from the air exacerbates asthma.
“Ella died of asthma due to exposure to excessive air pollution,” the coroner said Wednesday.
He said during Ella’s lifetime nitrogen dioxide emissions in Lewisham, where she lived, exceeded legal limits, both at EU and national level. The particulate levels were above WHO guidelines, he said.
“Ella’s whole life has been lived near very polluting roads. I have no difficulty in concluding that his personal exposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulates was very high.
The coroner said the health effects of air pollution had been known for many years and that children and people with asthma were particularly at risk.
He found that air pollution induced and exacerbated Ella’s particular form of severe asthma.
The move is the first of its kind in the UK and is likely to increase pressure on the government to tackle illegal levels of air pollution across the country.
Ella’s mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, a former teacher, has spent years fighting to have her daughter’s death reviewed by a second coroner. Her resilience was paid off on Wednesday when Barlow accepted expert medical evidence provided by the family that Ella’s particular form of acute asthma was exacerbated by air pollution.
Lawyers for Kissi-Debrah argued that air pollution was a public health emergency and urgently needed to be recorded as a cause of death to ensure that public health programs aimed at addressing the toxic air are a priority.
In evidence at the two-week inquiry, Professor Stephen Holgate, an immunopharmacologist and consultant respiratory physician at the University of Southampton and Southampton General Hospital, said a biological cause of the worsening disease of ‘Ella during the winter months was the seasonal worsening of air pollution.
He said it was the cumulative effect of the toxic air Ella breathed living less than 30 meters from the southern circular road that caused her last acute asthma attack.
Holgate said Ella was like a canary in a coal mine, signaling the risk to other Londoners from the toxic mixture of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides in the air.
Ella had had numerous seizures and had been taken to hospital almost 30 times in the three years before her death.
A 2014 investigative decision, which found that she died of acute respiratory failure, was overturned by the High Court following new evidence regarding dangerous levels of air pollution near her home.
During the hearing, Holgate, who was a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution until it closed in 2011, sharply criticized the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs for not working together on toxic substances. air.
Ella’s family argued that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the state had failed to take action to protect the public from dangerous levels of air pollution, amounting to a violation of the article. 2 of the Human Rights Act, concerning the right to life.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the coroner’s finding was a “historic moment” and called the pollution a “public health crisis”.
“Today must be a turning point so that other families do not have to suffer the same grief as Ella’s family. Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis, especially for our children, and the survey once again underscored the importance of pushing forward bold policies such as extending the ultra-low emission zone to the center. from London.
“Ministers and the former mayor have acted too slowly in the past, but now they must learn from the coroner’s decision and do much more to tackle the deadly scourge of air pollution in London and across the country. “
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 go further in protecting communities from air pollution, particularly PM2.5 pollution, which we soaps, is particularly harmful to people’s health. Through our historic environmental bill, we are also setting ambitious new air quality targets, with the primary objective of reducing impacts on public health.