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UK Air Pollution Could Be Cited as the Cause of Death in a Historic Case


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Air pollution levels in the UK not only cause environmental damage, but also impact human health with devastating results. The UN’s Global Goals call for action on climate change, as well as achieving universal good health and well-being. You can take action with us on these issues here.

Illegally high levels of air pollution could be cited as the cause of death of a 9-year-old girl in London, in what would a historic case in the UK. 

Ella Kissi-Debrah, from Lewisham, died following an asthma attack in February 2013. She had been admitted to hospital on many occasions over the three previous years.  

But new evidence has reportedly suggested a “striking association” between particularly high levels of air pollution near her home, and the timings of her hospital visits.

Take action: Educating Girls Strengthens the Global Fight Against Climate Change

“The dramatic worsening of her asthma in relation to air pollution episodes would go a long way to explain the timing of her exacerbations across her last four years,” say legal documents quoted by the Guardian, and submitted to the attorney general by Kissi-Debrah’s family in a call for a new inquest into how she died. 

Stephen Holgate, professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton, has submitted new evidence, saying there was a “real prospect that without illegal levels of air pollution Ella would not have died.” 

He also expressed his “firm view” that her death certificate should reflect air pollution as a causative factor. While air pollution is believed to lead to the premature deaths of 40,000 people every year in the UK, this would be the first time in the UK for it to be cited as cause of death. 

Read more: UK Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Avoid Steep Air Pollution Fines

Kissi-Debrah’s family home was reportedly 25 metres from one of London’s air pollution hotspots, the South Circular.  

Human rights lawyer Jocelyn Cockburn, the family’s representative in their application for a new inquest, said that “Ella’s case illustrates the hard-hitting impact of air pollution.” 

The evidence is now reportedly to be reviewed by the attorney general’s office.

The news comes as the results of a survey by Conservative think tank Bright Blue showed that the majority of younger voters would back a party working to combat air pollution. 

Read more: Millions of British Children Are Breathing Toxic Air, Says Unicef

The poll — which surveyed 4,007 adults between Feb. 28 and March 5 — showed that 54% of under-40s would support a party making real effort to curb air pollution, according to the Independent. It also showed that 70% of adults are concerned about air pollution and its impacts. 

“The public clearly believe national government should play a bigger role — in fact the biggest role — in introducing measures to reduce air pollution,” said Bright Blue researcher Eamonn Ives.

The World Health Organisation has labelled air pollution a public health emergency, with the UK having come under fire for repeatedly breaching legal limits. 

In May, a week after being threatened with fines and legal action by the European Union, the UK announced a new plan to reduce air pollution nationwide. 

Read more: Every Car in London Costs the NHS £8,000 Because Air Pollution Blows

The government’s new clear air strategy included efforts to reduce the number of people living in cities, as well as tackling sources like wood-burning stoves, heavy industry, and farming. 

The government predicted that these efforts would save the country around £1 billion in annual pollution costs, from health consequences to polluted waterways. 

The UK had previously also announced a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, and is expected to publish a “Road to Zero” strategy to outline how that will happen.