After a fresh inquest into the death of a nine-year-old girl concluded that she died as a result of air pollution, theories surrounding the relationship between pollution and ill-health haven been forced into a sickening reality.
Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is the first person in the UK, and possibly even the world, to have air pollution listed as her cause of death.
According to BBC news, Southwark Coroner’s Court concluded that air pollution “made a material contribution” to Ella’s death.
After the two-week inquest was concluded, Philip Barlow, Coroner, stated that Ella has been exposed to “excessive” levels of air pollution.
Philip Barlow said levels of Nitrogen Dioxide near Ella’s home exceeded World Health Organisation and European Union guidelines.
“There was a recognised failure to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide, which possibly contributed to her death,” he said.
Symptoms and Suffering
Ella’s symptoms were severe for three years before her death.
Asthma attacks, seizures, steroids, and hospital visits quickly became a part of her everyday life.
Despite being tested for a number of illnesses, the final verdict from doctors was that Ella had ‘severe asthma’. At times, she was unable to even walk up a flight of stairs.
“I’m still incredibly sad about how much she suffered,” her mother Rosamund says. “She suffered greatly. That is something I cannot erase from my memory at all.”
Unlawful Pollution to Blame
In 2015, Ella’s Mother took legal advice from Sir Stephen Holgate, a government adviser and one of the UK’s leading experts on asthma and air pollution.
After assessing Ella’s tissue samples and medical records in order to consider the severity of Ella’s asthma, as well as looking at pollutant data in their area, Sir Stephen concluded that there was a direct link between Ella’s condition and levels of toxic gases, such as nitrogen dioxide.
According to Sir Stephen’s research, there was a “real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution, Ella would not have died.”
The Reality of Air Pollution on Children
The World Health Organisation (WHO) offers shocking statistics about the impact of air pollution on children:
• 1 in 10 deaths of children under 5 years of age are linked to air pollution
• 7 million premature deaths each year are caused by exposure to air pollution
• 93% of children live in environments with air pollution levels above WHO guidelines
The government estimates the number of people killed by long-term exposure to air pollution in the UK to be as high as 30,000 a year. No direct link to an individual death had ever been made until now.
Since 2015, several car manufacturers have been under investigation for diesel emissions fraud. It is alleged that they fitted illegal ‘defeat devices’ to cheat emissions tests and enable their vehicles to enter the market despite emitting much higher emissions than are allowed by the EU Regulations.
Mercedes-Benz, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen and the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance are among the vehicle manufacturers believed to be implicated in the scandal. It is claimed that some vehicles have been producing up to 40 times the legal limit of emissions for many years.
The environmental repercussions of excess emissions have been widely discussed, but the alarming effects on the health of children like Ella are often overlooked.
Air pollution has been proven to worsen respiratory conditions, especially in children. The WHO has noted 6,800 deaths per year can be attributed in some way to excess pollution. Cars and vans contribute to the problem by releasing emissions far above what is allowed.
“Air pollution is a very real problem both in the UK and further afield. We hope the findings of the inquest will make car manufacturers, and other major contributors to this issue, think twice about their actions” said Tom Goodhead, Managing Partner of PGMBM.
“Knowing that Ella’s death could have been prevented if she wasn’t living in such a heavily polluted area is shocking. At PGMBM, we are litigating against vehicle manufacturers who we believe must do more to prevent similar tragedies taking place.”