Child's death verdict to be revisited after air pollution claims

8th May 2019


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The British Safety Council (BSC) has welcomed the High Court's decision to quash the verdict of a 2014 inquest into a child who suffered a fatal asthma attack linked to air pollution.

Ella Kissi-Debrah, aged nine, was found in 2014 to have died from acute respiratory failure and severe asthma. However, a report last year said it was likely that unlawful levels of pollution, detected at a monitoring station a mile from her home, contributed to her death.

Judges said this new evidence meant a fresh inquest was needed as there had been an arguable failure by the UK government to comply with duties to protect the right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

This marked the culmination of a campaign by the child's mother and may see her become the first person in the UK to have air pollution mentioned as a contributory factor on her death certificate.

BSC chair Lawrence Waterman said: We have become much better informed about the dangers of air pollution, which is linked to as many as 36,000 early deaths a year and is now recognised as the biggest environmental risk to public health.“

He added: “The death of Ella is tragic evidence of how toxic London air is, which millions of people living and working in the capital breathe every day.

It is also a legacy of years of inaction by regulators and public bodies which choose to ignore mounting evidence of the impact of air pollution on our health and lives.“

Evidence put before the High Court included that given by Professor Stephen Holgate, consultant respiratory physician at the University of Southampton and former chairman of the government's advisory committee on air pollution, who said that exposure to air pollutants was a key factor in Ella's disease. He concluded there was a “real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution, Ella would not have died“.

The BSC said that last January Labour MP Andy Slaughter MP asked a parliamentary question on its behalf about how the Health and Safety Executive regulates the exposure of outdoor workers to ambient air pollution but received an answer from the government that it did not do so and had no plans to research its links to workers' health.

This led to the BSC working with King's College London to launch Canairy, which it said was the world's first mobile app for outdoor workers to measure their exposure to air pollution.

Canairy is part of the BSC's Time to Breathe campaign which aims to draw the attention of employers, policy-makers and regulators to the dangers of air pollution to outdoor workers.

Image credit: iStock

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