‘Landmark moment’: Air pollution marked as a cause of 9-year-old's death

16 December 2020, 14:27 | Updated: 16 December 2020, 14:48

Ella Kissi-Debrah died aged nine in 2013.
Ella Kissi-Debrah died aged nine in 2013. Picture: Family Handout/PA Media

By Joe Cook

In a landmark ruling, a London coroner has ruled that air pollution was a cause of death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah.

Ella suffered a fatal asthma attack and is believed to be the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on their death certificate.

She lived 25 metres from the busy South Circular road in London and died in 2013 after numerous seizures and over 30 hospital visits across three years.

A previous inquest ruling from 2014, which concluded Ella died of acute respiratory failure, was quashed by the High Court following new evidence about the dangerous levels of air pollution close to her home.

The new two-week inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court concluded that “Ella died of asthma, contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution”.

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Giving his narrative conclusion on Wednesday, Assistant Coroner Philip Barlow said: "Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma.

"During the course of her illness between 2010 and 2013 she was exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in excess of World Health Organisation guidelines.

Mr Barlow said: "Ella's mother was not given information about the health risks of air pollution and its potential to exacerbate asthma.

"If she had been given this information she would have taken steps which might have prevented Ella's death."

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Ella Kissi-Debrah lived 25 metres from the busy South Circular road in London.
Ella Kissi-Debrah lived 25 metres from the busy South Circular road in London. Picture: PA

Ella's mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah and two siblings were at Southwark Coroner's Court in south London for the ruling.

Speaking at a press conference after the inquest ruling, Ms Kissi-Debrah said: "Yes, this was about my daughter, getting air pollution on the death certificate which we finally have, and we've got the justice for her which she so deserved.

"But also it's about other children still as we walk around our city of high levels of air pollution."

She added she was "shocked" by the conclusion of her daughter's inquest and that she was not expecting the coroner to be "so decisive, so comprehensive" in his findings.

"He has proved to me how seriously he takes this matter."

Read more: Government Has To Tackle Air Pollution, Says Mother Who Lost Her Child To Asthma

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan welcomed the coroner’s conclusion, describing it as a “landmark moment”.

"This is a landmark moment and is thanks to the years of tireless campaigning by Ella's mother Rosamund, who has shown an extraordinary amount of courage,” he said in a statement.

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Mr Khan added: “Today must be a turning point so that other families do not have to suffer the same heartbreak as Ella's family.”

In 2019, 33 of the UK's 43 air quality zones were still above the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide, analysis of government figures by ClientEarth has revealed, including London, Manchester, Sheffield, Glasgow, Belfast and Bristol.