A fresh inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived 25 yards from the South Circular Road in Forest Hill, has concluded today that the nine-year-old died as a result of dangerous levels of air pollutants.
Ella suffered a fatal asthma attack in 2013 and has become the first person in the UK for whom air pollution is listed as a cause of death.
Assistant Coroner Philip Barlow said: “Ella Kissi-Debrah died of Asthma contributed to by exposure of excessive air pollution. Air pollution did make a significant contribution to the induction of Ella’s asthma. Air pollution made a material contribution to Ella’s death.”
The high court previously quashed a 2014 inquest that found Ella had died of acute respiratory failure, this was following new evidence about dangerous levels of air pollution close to her home.
Today’s verdict concluded that air pollution did make a significant contribution and Ella had been exposed to excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide particulate matter.
Particulate matter is a mix of solids and liquids, including carbon, complex organic chemicals, sulphates, nitrates, mineral dust, and water suspended in the air.
The coroner also concluded that Ella’s mother had not been informed of the risks of that air pollution while Ella was alive.
The inquest heard that Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, was clear that if she had been informed of the damaging effects, she would have taken steps to minimise Ella’s exposure to air pollution.
Jemima Hartshorn, founder of Herne Hill-based national pressure group Mums for Lungs said: “This is such a heartbreaking case and we are so grateful that Rosamund found the incredible strength within her to fight for the right of all children to breathe clean air.
“Ella’s life should never have been at risk from air pollution. We hope that now, finally, Government will take the necessary action to protect everyone from air pollution.”
Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham and Cllr Sophie McGeevor, Cabinet member for Environment and Transport said: “Our thoughts are with Rosamund and her family at this very difficult time.
“Rosamund’s campaign for clean air has been hugely impactful both locally and nationally in bringing awareness to the dangers of air pollution.
“We support her in continuing this fight and will do everything we can to enact and call for change – working with the Government and Transport for London to try to reduce the impact of traffic and air pollution on our community.
“Our hope is that today’s ruling is the evidence needed to effect lasting change, to finally secure a national commitment to tackling air pollution in a meaningful way.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan welcomed the verdict, calling it a “landmark moment” and addressed the “public health crisis” of toxic air pollution in the capital.
Mr Khan said: “Today must be a turning point so that other families do not have to suffer the same heartbreak as Ella’s family.
“Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis, especially for our children, and the inquest underlined yet again the importance of pushing ahead with bold policies such as expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone to inner London. Ministers and the previous mayor have acted too slowly in the past, but they must now learn the lessons from the coroner’s ruling.”
But the Mayor has been criticised for his failure to properly tackle air pollution in London – especially his decision to go ahead with the £2 billion Silvertown road tunnel, which campaigners say would increase pollution in the area.
PM2.5 pollution, particles formed by burning fuel and other chemical reactions, has become a central issue in the debate surrounding the Silvertown tunnel, as there is currently no provision in place to monitor it once the tunnel opens.
Although there are provisions to monitor and mitigate pollution from the Silvertown tunnel, the monitoring period only lasts for three years after the tunnel’s opening.
Victoria Rance, a campaigner with Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, said: “Today I am thinking of Ros Kissi-Debrah and her amazing courage, as a mother and as a human being. We have stood together and spoken out about air pollution, trying to warn people of its dangers.
“When Sadiq Khan responded to the landmark ruling regarding Ella Kissi-Debrah, he labelled air pollution a ‘public health crisis’ and spoke about PM2.5 pollution as ‘particularly harmful to human health’. So why has he refused to promise to measure PM2.5 pollution in relation to the building of the Silvertown Tunnel, and in the monitoring after it is built?
“Sadiq Khan has just made the case for cancelling the tunnel. By highlighting PM2.5 he has pointed to the very problem that we at Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition have been highlighting in the research we have published.”
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