The mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who became the first person in the UK to have air pollution cited on their death certificate, has launched a High Court claim against the Government.
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, who lives near the South Circular road in Lewisham, is suing The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care for compensation for personal injury over her daughter’s death.
Last Friday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan apologised to Ms Kissi-Debrah for the loss of her daughter at an event at City Hall.
Despite not being mayor at the time, he said the Greater London Authority and Transport for London (TfL) should have acted sooner to tackle pollution.
Speaking to the South London Press, Ms Kissi-Debrah said: “I made the decision after the inquest into Ella’s death. I didn’t believe the Government were going to do anything.
“Apologies are an acknowledgement of Ella’s life, but they don’t bring her back.”
Ella died just after her ninth birthday in February 2013, having suffered a fatal asthma attack.
Dangerous levels of air pollution “made a material contribution” to her death, a coroner ruled following a second inquest in December 2020.
The family lived about 25 metres from the South Circular which Ella walked by on her way to and from school. Before her death, Ella was admitted to hospital more than 30 times in three years after numerous seizures.
The inquest revealed that levels of pollution at Catford monitoring station, a mile from Ella’s home, “consistently” exceeded lawful EU limits over the three years before her death.
Ms Kissi-Debrha said: “During Ella’s inquest there was a lot of information out there that I didn’t know about it. I want this case to raise awareness.
“If Ella succeeds it’s better for the whole nation – we need a public health campaign, we need more awareness and monitoring that is available for the public, not just politicians.”
The coroner said in his ruling that Ella had been exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) pollution – mainly caused by traffic emissions – which exceeded World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
The WHO says particulate pollution (PM2.5) should not exceed an annual average of 10 μg/m3. The latest Government data shows the UK recorded 25 µg/m3 of PM2.5 across 2021.
The Government’s current target aims to meet the WHO’s guidelines by 2040.
Ms Kissi-Debrah said: “The Government is saying children born today are going to breathe dirty air until they are 16 – it’s too late.
“As Ella taught me when you lose your health you can’t get it back.
“Access to clean air should be the same as access to clean water – it should be a human right.”
Lewisham council has introduced two Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) since 2021 in an attempt to combat pollution. Data from the Office for Health Inequalities and Disparities shows that asthma rates have not decreased in Lewisham over this period.
Ms Kissi-Debrha said: “Unfortunately for Lewisham, they didn’t heed what the coroner said.
“My objection with the council’s LTNs is that they have pushed more cars into the South Circular.
“This is not just a Government problem, parties need to work together on a local and national level to tackle air pollution.”
A spokeswoman for Lewisham council said: “The latest air quality monitoring report for the LTNs indicates that NO2 levels have continued to fall.
“Monitoring carried out on the South Circular has shown improvements in air quality, and is now better than pre-Covid and pre-LTN levels.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “The Government has delivered significant improvements in air quality at a national level since 2010, but we recognise there is more to do.”
Pictured top: Rosamund Kissi-Debrah with a picture of her daughter, Ella (Picture: Richard Maidment)
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