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‘Reduce UK air pollution to WHO limits’, urges coroner in Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah case

Public awareness of how to reduce exposure must also be increased.
22 April 2021 , Katie Coyne

Legally binding air pollution limits in line with WHO limits would reduce lives lost in the UK from air pollution, the coroner into Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death has said.

Coroner Phillip Barlow warned there was “no safe level for particulate matter” in his future deaths report that followed Ella’s inquest. He has written to central government advising them to take action. 

The inquest into the nine-year-old’s death was the first in the UK to find that air pollution made a “material contribution” to her death.

Barlow also said “low” public awareness of how to reduce exposure needed to be increased, and has written to central government, the Mayor of London and the London Borough of Lewisham, where Ella lived and was exposed to poor air quality.

He also advised that patients and their carers should be told about the adverse affects of air pollution by the medical and nursing professions. This needed to be addressed at undergraduate, postgraduate and professional levels, Barlow said in his report, and he has written to various organisations responsible for teaching and professional guidance.

Barlow wrote: “Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of [Ella’s] asthma. During the course of her illness between 2010 and 2013 she was exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in excess of World Health Organization Guidelines. The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions.

“During this period there was a recognised failure to reduce the level of nitrogen dioxide to within the limits set by EU and domestic law which possibly contributed to her death.

“Ella's mother was not given information by health professionals 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.”

Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said: "Our thoughts are once again with Ella's mother and family.

"The government must take rapid steps to prevent similar tragedies happening in future. Too many lives are cut short every year because of polluted air.

"Tougher legally binding requirements to meet World Health Organization guidelines for the most dangerous fine particle air pollution by 2030 are urgently required and must be included in the Environment Bill.

"But targets alone are not enough – the main causes of air pollution must also be addressed. Ensuring that the vehicles on our road are cleaner, and that there are fewer of them, will not only drive down air pollution, it will cut climate emissions too."

General secretary Manuel Cortes of the TSSA transport union said: "We must learn the lessons from the tragic death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. The coroner is absolutely right to say pollution limits must be reduced – health must come first.

"Transport makes a huge contribution to pollution, so it is vital that we speed up the electrification of our railways and buses, commit to active travel and shift behaviour away from private vehicles. Doing so will increase health and wellbeing and help tackle climate change.

"As we recover from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we must rebuild our lives and communities in ways which enhance our health and wellbeing.”

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