British court: ‘air pollution contributed to 9-year-old girl’s death’
A British court has decided that a nine-year-old girl’s death was caused by air pollution. It’s the first time a British court links a death case to pollution. The judgment could have far-reaching consequences for plans against air pollution.
Ella Kissi-Debrah died on February 15th, 2013, of an asthma attack. She lived in the southeast of London, in Lewisham to be more specific, just 25 meters from the busy South Circular Road, where levels of nitrogen dioxide from traffic constantly exceeded the annual legal level of 40 µg/m3 between 2006 and 2010. Air pollution caused by traffic is responsible for 4 million new cases of asthma in children a year.
‘Acute respiratory failure’
Ella’s initial cause of death was ‘acute respiratory failure’, but her mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, did not reconcile herself to the situation and asked for an autopsy. She insisted on having her daughter’s death officially recognized as caused by air pollution.
According to newspaper De Morgen, Philip Barlow, the pathologist in the case, discovered that Ella had been exposed to ‘extreme’ amounts of particles and nitrogen dioxide. Research of 2018 even indicated that she would probably still have lived if air pollution in her surroundings would not have exceeded the international, European, and World Health Organization standards.
The official judgment now is that Ella died of asthma and that pollution played an important part in the girl’s death. Ella’s mother is relieved “to have the justice the girl deserved”. Her fight for justice may help prevent other air pollution deaths.
Current UK limits for particles are two and a half times higher than the WHO recommends. Every year, between 28 000 and 36 000 people die in the UK due to toxic air pollution. During the three years before she died, Ella had been taken to hospital 27 times, BBC News reported.
London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, says it’s a historic judgment. The pioneering judgment gives British individuals and organizations fighting against air pollution the hope that they will soon see an emergency plan against air pollution.