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In landmark ruling, air pollution recorded as cause of death for British girl

January 8, 2021

A 9-year-old girl who suffered a fatal asthma attack in 2013 became the first person in Britain to officially have air pollution listed as a cause of death, a British official said according to a December 16, 2020 New York Times report.

The landmark ruling puts a face and a name on one of the millions of people whose deaths are hastened by air pollution across the world every year. And in Britain, legal experts said, it could open a new door to lawsuits by pollution victims or  their families.

“Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the U.K.” says Public Health England.

The girl, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, lived near a major circular road in southeast London and died in February 2013. An asthmatic, she had been taken to the hospital nearly 30 times in less than three years and suffered numerous seizures.

Her mother said during the inquiry in recent weeks that if she had been told air pollution was contributing to her daughter’s ill health, she would have moved, The Guardian reported.

The effects of air pollution kill an estimated seven million people across the world every year, according to the World Health Organization. Ambient air pollution, which contributed to Ella’s death, “accounts for an estimated 4.2 million deaths per year due to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases,” according to the W.H.O.

Legal and health experts hailed Wednesday’s ruling as a landmark for Britain and other countries because it directly linked air pollution to a specific death. The United Nations Environment Program wrote last year that if air pollution were to be declared a cause of Ella’s death, it would be “the first time that air pollution has ever been explicitly linked to a named individual’s death.”

“We usually have estimates of numbers, or what we called ‘deaths attributed to,’ but there’s never been one identified case, because it is very hard to directly link a death to air pollution,” said Jonathan Grigg, a professor of pediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at Queen Mary University London. “This is a groundbreaking decision, with pretty overwhelming evidence.”

“Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the U.K.,” according to Public Health England, with up to 36,000 deaths a year “attributed to long-term exposure.” But British authorities have repeatedly failed to comply with guidelines set up by the W.H.O. on levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter — the very small particles most dangerous to human tissues — as well as other legally binding obligations, according to Rose Grogan, a lawyer at 39 Essex Chambers who specializes in environmental law.

“Today’s ruling comes in the long running context of Britain being in breach of European directives on air pollution,” she said. “The findings per se aren’t legally binding, yet that conclusion could likely pave the way for claims to be brought against the government in civil jurisdictions.”

What this means to you
Legal and health experts hailed the ruling as a landmark for Britain and other countries because it directly linked air pollution to a specific death. The findings per se aren’t legally binding, yet that conclusion could likely pave the way for claims to be brought against the government in civil jurisdictions.

MIRATECH can help
CONTACT MITRATECH for stationary engine emission control in Great Britain and Europe.