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Change air pollution law to save lives, says Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah coroner

Air pollution levels in the UK far exceed global guidelines, Philip Barlow said, while doctors don’t communicate the effects of dirty air well enough

The Government must put tough air pollution targets into law to prevent further deaths like that of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, according to a coroner who investigated the case.

Air pollution limits in the UK are “far higher” than World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, according to coroner Philip Barlow in a new report on preventing future deaths

But there is “no safe level of particulate matter”, he added.

Last year Ella was the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death after Barlow ruled she was consistently exposed to excessive air pollution near her south London home. The coroner ruled the exposure both induced and exacerbated her severe form of asthma and ultimately led to her death in 2013.

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“Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” said Barlow, the assistant coroner for Southwark. 

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Current UK air particle targets – which are higher than those recommended by the WHO – are remnants of EU legislation which remained in UK law after Brexit. But a court accused the UK of breaking that law repeatedly over the past 10 years with extremely polluted air.

Doctors and nurses are not doing enough to inform patients of the adverse effects of inhaling toxic air, the report claimed, and awareness of air pollution levels is too low among the general public. Air pollution is estimated to contribute to 40,000 UK deaths per year.

“Children are dying unnecessarily because the government is not doing enough,” said Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, in a statement.

“In order to save lives the government must act now and take the steps that the coroner has identified in his report.”

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She did not have access to enough information about the health risks of polluted air and its potential to exacerbate asthma, Rosamund previously said during the inquest into her daughter’s death.

Rosamund will demand George Eustice, the environment secretary, to put WHO air pollution limits into law following the report, she added.

The coroner also suggested increasing the number of air quality sensors across the country for better monitoring of toxic air.

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, one of the busiest roads in London. She experienced several seizures and visited hospital almost 30 times in the three years before her death. 

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