The Southwark Coroner’s Court in London has ruled air pollution “made a material contribution” in the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah – a 9-year-old girl who passed away after suffering an asthma attack in 2013, BBC reported. This is the first time the UK has listed air pollution as a cause of death.
Following a two-week inquest, coroner Philip Barlow concluded the little girl had been exposed to “excessive” levels of the dangerous and harmful substance. The ruling was labeled as a “landmark decision” by Prof Gavin Shaddick, a government adviser on air pollution.
Three years prior to Ella’s death, the inquest was informed she suffered several seizures and was admitted to the hospital 27 times. According to Barlow, the deceased’s residence was exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which was way more than the guidelines of the World Health Organization and European Union.
“There was a recognized failure to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide, which possibly contributed to her death,” Barlow said. “There was also a lack of information given to Ella’s mother that possibly contributed to her death.”
He concluded by saying, “Ella died of asthma, contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.”
Following the ruling, Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, said she was “shocked” by how “decisive and comprehensive” the inquest was, according to BBC.
“We’ve got the justice for her which she so deserved,” she said. “But also it’s about other children still, as we walk around our city of high levels of air pollution.”
Appearing before the inquest, Ella’s mother said her then six-year-old daughter was hospitalized in 2010 for a coughing fit, and she had to be placed in a medically induced coma for three days in an attempt to stabilize her. She said her daughter was later classified as disabled around 2012. She passed away in February 2013 after suffering a severe asthma attack.
“I think people need to understand when Ella was rushed into hospital, a lot of the time she was barely breathing,” she said. “It was an emergency, cardiac arrest.”
Following Ella’s death, a 2018 investigation revealed a monitoring station a mile away from her residence emitted unlawful levels of pollution, adding that it was a contributory factor in her death, BBC reported. Prof Sir Stephen Holgate, the author of the report, said little Ella was “living on a knife-edge” the months before her passing.
“This case pins Ella’s untimely death partly on to the air she breathed. It will heighten the debate about social equity in the UK,” Roger Harrabin, BBC’s environment analyst, said. “The poorest tend to suffer the worst air, whilst – on a national basis – the richest tend to drive furthest.”
Harrabin added: “Campaigners now want emergency action – including expanding London’s clean-air zone for vehicles out to the M25 and making Britain’s streets better for walking and cycling.”
The ruling was also labeled as a “landmark moment” by London mayor Sadiq Khan. “Today must be a turning point so that other families do not have to suffer the same heartbreak as Ella’s family,” he said. “Ministers and the previous mayor have acted too slowly in the past, but they must now learn the lessons from the coroner’s ruling.”