A nine-year-old girl died of “excessive air pollution and severe asthma” a coroner has ruled, in a legal first in the UK.
On Wednesday London coroner Philip Barlow said Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah “died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution”.
Ella suffered from severe asthma which caused episodes of respiratory and cardiac arrest and required frequent admissions to hospital, a statement from the South London coroner’s court said.
She died on 15 February 2013 after suffering an asthmatic episode at home. She was taken to hospital but went into cardiac arrest and could not be resuscitated.
“Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma,” Mr Barlow said.
“During the course of her illness … she was exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide in excess of World Health Organisation guidelines. The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions.”
He said there was a “recognised failure” to reduce those NO2 levels to within UK and EU limits, “which possibly contributed to her death”.
“Ella’s mother was not given information about the health risks of air pollution and its potential to exacerbate asthma. If she had been given this information she would have taken steps which might have prevented Ella’s death.”
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Air pollution expert Stephen Holgate told the inquest there was a “striking link” between spikes in NO2 and harmful particulate matter and the dates she was taken to hospital for treatment.
He said the young girl was “living on a knife edge” because of her surroundings and the air quality in her neighbourhood, which exacerbated her condition.
The British Lung Foundation and Asthma UK said the inquest had laid bare the “invisible dangers of breathing dirty air” and set a precedent for a “seismic shift” in government policy.
The inquest was told that air pollution had been a known factor in worsening asthma, including in children, for at least four decades.
Air pollution readings 1.6 kilometres from Ella’s family home consistently broke lawful EU limits in the three years before her death, the coroner was told.
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said she would have moved from the area had she been aware of the effects of air quality on her daughter’s health.
On Friday, she told AFP she wanted “justice” for her daughter and for the ruling to help improve the lives of other children, calling air pollution a “public health emergency”.
She welcomed the coroner’s ruling and told reporters: “As we walk around our cities, there are still illegal levels of air pollution. This matter is far from over.”
“There needs to be a whole health campaign about this. This is a very serious health matter … Hopefully this (ruling) will change that,” she added.
Between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths in Britain each year are thought to be linked to air pollution.