First person to 'die from air pollution' is girl, 9, who suffered asthma attack

It may become the first death directly attributed to illegal levels of air pollution in the UK – sparking calls for more to be done to tackle the problem.

If the cause of death is confirmed it will strengthen the case for tougher penalties against high pollution diesel cars.

Ella Roberta Kissi-Debrah died in 2013 after 27 visits to hospitals in three years due to asthma attacks.

She lived just 80ft from London's South Circular Road in Hither Green, where pollution regularly exceeded legal limits.

Prof Stephen Holgate, an expert on asthma and air pollution based at the University of Southampton, found a "striking association" between Ella's emergency hospital admissions and spikes in nitrogen dioxide and PM10 [particulate matter] pollution, according to The Times.

She died after one of the "worst air pollution episodes in her locality".

His report, obtained by the BBC, said exposure to air pollutants was a "key driver" of Ella's condition and concluded that there was a "real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution, Ella would not have died".

"Unlawful levels of air pollution contributed to the cause and seriousness of Ella's asthma in a way that greatly compromised her quality of life and was causative of her fatal asthma attack,” he added.

Professor Holgate, who is a special adviser on air quality to the Royal College of Physicians, looked through records gathered by an air pollution monitoring station in Catford, a mile from where Ella lived.

She either walked the 30-40 minutes to school along South Circular Road in Lewisham, or was driven and would sit in traffic jams.

The report will form part of an appeal to the attorney general to re-open an inquest into her death.

The original inquest found she died from acute respiratory failure but did not find the cause.

Her mum, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, has since campaigned for a new inquest arguing the air pollution was never considered.

She told of how she resuscitated her daughter 20 to 30 times while waiting for an ambulance, having never been warned that air pollution can trigger asthma.

Rosamund, who ran as the Greens candidate in the recent Lewisham East by-election, claims that had she been properly advised, she would have considered moving and changing Ella's school.

"I need to find out for myself why she died and what the causes are," she said.

"I need this for my other children, in order to protect their health. I also believe there is a public interest in examining her death because if this direct link were made, then the health of our children would have to be prioritised over other considerations including the convenience of drivers."

Human rights lawyer Jocelyn Cockburn, who represented the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, is representing Ms Kissi-Debrah in her fight for a new inquest.

She was looking into whether the government and the mayor of London were in breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which protects the right to life.

Under EU rules, any single location in the UK is only allowed to breach hourly limits of 200 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air 18 times in a year – something that is regularly breached in London.

Air pollution is linked to about 25,000 early deaths a year, with campaigners calling for more action to tackle the problem.

In June Mayor of London Sadiq Khan confirmed plans to expand the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to the outskirts of the capital in a bid to curb dangerous levels of toxins in the air.

The health impact of air pollution caused by humans in the UK is estimated to cost between £8.5 billion and £18.6 billion a year, according to Public Health England.


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