A 9-year-old girl who died of acute respiratory failure is at the center of a landmark London case on air pollution. Coroner Philip Barlow ruled that failure to keep air pollution below legal limits was one of the causes of Ella Kissi-Debrah’s death in 2013.

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Kissi-Debrah lived in Lewisham, a part of London where nitrogen dioxide emissions exceed both national and EU legal limits. Particulate matter levels are also dangerously high, exceeding WHO guidelines. Kissi-Debrah lived within 30 meters of the South Circular Road. Stephen Holgate, an immunopharmacologist who testified at the hearing, said the cumulative effect of the toxic air she breathed every day caused her last acute asthma attack.

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The young girl suffered terribly from her breathing problems. She went to the hospital almost 30 times in the three years preceding her death and had many seizures.

“The whole of Ella’s life was lived in close proximity to highly polluting roads,” Barlow said. “I have no difficulty in concluding that her personal exposure to nitrogen dioxide and PM was very high.”

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, fought to get a second opinion from a coroner for years. Her lawyers claimed that naming air pollution as a cause of death would help raise people’s awareness of toxic air as a public health emergency. They want the government to prioritize improving air quality so other people with acute asthma won’t face the same lethal consequences as Ella.

This historic ruling might be enough to force some action. London Mayor Sadiq Khan called the coroner’s ruling a “landmark moment” and deemed air pollution a “public health crisis.”

A government spokesperson said, “We are delivering a £3.8bn plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 pollution, and going further in protecting communities from air pollution, particularly PM2.5 pollution, which we know is particularly harmful to people’s health. Through our landmark environment bill, we are also setting ambitious new air-quality targets, with a primary focus on reducing public health impacts.”

Via The Guardian

Image via Dan Jones