Energy & Environment

Air pollution listed as an official cause of death in the UK for the first time

Air pollution was listed as a cause of death in the United Kingdom for the first time, with a coroner ruling that it “made a material contribution” to the death of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah.

Kissi-Debrah died in 2013 after a severe asthma attack led to respiratory failure.

Stephen Holgate, the former U.K. government chair of the advisory committee on air pollution, later discovered that her attacks followed years of illegal pollution near her home.

After Holgate’s report was released, a new inquest was opened and, on Wednesday, the coroner for Kissi-Debrah’s London neighborhood, Philip Barlow, ruled that its particulate matter (PM) exceeded guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO) when she was alive, with nitrogen dioxide emissions also reaching illegal levels.

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

In a tweet, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said, “This is a landmark moment and thanks to years of campaigning by Ella’s mother Rosamund, who has shown an extraordinary amount of courage.”


“Whilst we are debating, there will be a child who is being rushed to hospital somewhere in the United Kingdom or in the United States or somewhere in the world,” Rosamund Kissi-Debrah told CBS News in an interview last year.

The WHO estimates that air pollution kills around 7 million people annually, CBS News notes, with children living in the poorer, urban settings more likely to suffer from asthma.

In November, the U.K. government announced it would end the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles by the year 2030, 10 years earlier than it had originally planned. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the country planned to have 100 percent zero emissions by 2035.

Tags Air pollution CBS News London nitrogen dioxide particulate matter Pollution U.K. United Kingdom
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