Last reviewed 22 April 2021
The Government should introduce legally binding targets for particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution, in line with WHO guidelines, according to the coroner in the inquest into the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah.
Ella had lived just a few meters from the South circular Road in Lewisham and had severe, hypersecretory asthma, causing episodes of respiratory and cardiac arrest that required frequent emergency hospital admissions during her short life.
On 15 February 2013, she had a further asthmatic episode at home and was taken to hospital where she suffered a cardiac arrest from which she could not be resuscitated and died.
In a landmark ruling in December 2020, coroner Philip Barlow said pollution was a “significant contributory factor” to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma, and ruled that Ella was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.
In his report published on Wednesday, Barlow said: “There was no dispute that atmospheric air pollution is the cause of many thousand premature deaths every year in the UK.
“The evidence at the inquest was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be seen as minimum requirements. Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK.”
Former environment secretary Michael Gove, had promised to tackle the problem two years ago, through the government’s Clean Air Strategy, but legislation to give local authorities “new powers to take action in areas of high pollution” has yet to be approved.
The report also raised concern that there is a low public awareness of the sources of information about national and local pollution levels, and that the adverse effects of air pollution on health are “not being sufficiently communicated to patients and their carers by medical and nursing professionals”.
“Greater awareness would help individuals reduce their personal exposure to air pollution,” Barlow said.
Ella's mother, Rosamund Adoo- Kissi-Debrah, told the BBC that the Government should act on the coroner's recommendations, warning "children are dying unnecessarily because the government is not doing enough to combat air pollution".