Ella Kissi-Debrah - pollution targets still needed

| 21st April 2021 |
Boris Johnson still failing to impose WHO pollution targets eight years after death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah from asthma attack.

Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK. 

The coroner in an inquest into a nine-year-old girl who died of a fatal asthma attack after being exposed to toxic air has urged Boris Johnson's government to set tougher legally binding pollution targets.

Philip Barlow, assistant coroner for Inner South London, ruled in a landmark second inquest last year that air pollution contributed to the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah from an asthma attack.

In a report to prevent future deaths, he said legally binding targets for particulate matter in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK and the government should take action to address the issue.

Seizures

He also said greater public awareness of air pollution information would help individuals reduce their personal exposure.

And he warned the adverse effects of pollutants were not being sufficiently communicated to patients and their carers by medical staff

Responding to the report, Ella’s mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah called on the government to act on the recommendations in the coroner’s report, warning “children are dying unnecessarily because the government is not doing enough to combat air pollution”.

Ella was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate, following the inquest ruling by Mr Barlow last December.

She lived 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London – one of the capital’s busiest roads. She died in February 2013, having endured numerous seizures and made almost 30 hospital visits over the previous three years.

Awareness

A previous inquest ruling from 2014, which concluded Ella died of acute respiratory failure, was quashed by the High Court following new evidence about the dangerous levels of air pollution close to her home.

In his report following the second inquest, published on Wednesday, Mr Barlow said national limits for particulate matter – a dangerous form of air pollutant – were set far higher than WHO guidelines.

“The evidence at the inquest was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be seen as minimum requirements.

“Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” the report said.

He said government departments for environment, health and transport should address the issue, while local and national governments should address the lack of public awareness about pollution information.

Suffering

Health bodies and professional organisations needed to tackle the failure by doctors and nurses to communicate the adverse effects of air pollution on health to patients, he said.

Ms Kissi-Debrah said she would be contacting Environment Secretary George Eustice to urge him to put the WHO pollution guidelines into law in the Environment Bill and achieve them in the shortest possible time.

She also said there needed to be improved public information about the levels of pollution that people are exposed to and the health risks.

“As the parent of a child suffering from severe asthma, I should have been given this information but this did not happen.

Particulate

“Because of a lack of information I did not take the steps to reduce Ella’s exposure to air pollution that might have saved her life. I will always live with this regret.

“But it is not too late for other children.”

And she said: “I invite the Government to act now to reduce air pollution. Immediately. Not in eighteen months, not in five years – that’s not fast enough.

“People are dying from air pollution each year. Action needs to be taken now or more people will simply continue to die.”

A government spokesman said it was delivering a £3.8 billion plan to clean up transport and tackle nitrogen pollution, and going further in protecting communities from air pollution, particularly particulate matter known as PM2.5.

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.

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