UK Inquiry Looks into Role of Air Pollution in Death of Girl

A public inquiry opens Monday in London to determine the role played by air pollution in the death of a girl living near a busy London street, a case that could set a precedent. Then 9 years old, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died February 15, 2013, of a serious asthma attack after nearly three years of repeated attacks and more than 30 hospitalizations related to the disease.  An initial investigation, in 2014, determined that she died of acute respiratory failure caused by severe asthma. But those findings were overturned in 2019 and a new investigation was ordered because of new evidence regarding air pollution risks, highlighted in a report in 2018.  This second investigation, which begins Monday and will last two weeks, will examine the levels of pollution to which Ella had been exposed and determine whether they caused her death. If the coroner, charged with identifying the reason for death, concludes that air pollution directly caused Ella’s death, that would set a precedent. The girl is believed to be the first person in the United Kingdom to have air pollution as the cause of death. ‘Striking link’Ella lived less than 30 meters from the South Circular, a busy and regularly congested route in South London.  In 2018, Professor Stephen Holgate, a British air pollution expert, noted a “striking link” between Ella’s emergency hospitalizations and the recorded peaks of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and airborne particles, the most harmful pollutants. The investigation will examine possible failures by the authorities to take measures to reduce pollution and inform the public about the health risks. Officials from the British Ministries of Transport, Environment and Health will be heard, as well as Holgate. Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, will testify during the second week of the investigation. “It has been almost eight years since Ella passed away and it has been a long and difficult struggle to get this investigated, with obstacles in the way. I want justice for Ella and the true cause of her death written on her death certificate,” Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said in a statement, before the opening of the second investigation. “She was the life and soul of our home, always playing music, dancing with my other daughter, Sophia. She had a lot of influence on her younger siblings, encouraging them to succeed, their doing sports,” she said. According to figures from the city of London, 99% of the city exceeds the limits recommended by the WHO in terms of air pollution.  Last month, the executive director of the Clean Air Fund, Jane Burston, noted “that children in London age 4 were .2% more likely to be hospitalized with asthma on days when nitrogen dioxide pollution is high.” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said last month, citing supporting figures, that air quality had improved since 2016. He highlighted the measures put in place since his election, including enforcement last year of an “ultra-low emission zone” (ULEZ) that forces the drivers of the most polluting vehicles to pay a daily tax on entry. 

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