Air pollution has been listed as a contributing factor in the death of a nine-year-old British girl in 2013.
After a two-week inquest, coroner Philip Barlow determined that Ella Kissi-Debrah of South London died of acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and exposure to air pollution.
It is the first time that air pollution has been listed as a contributing cause of death in Britain, the BBC reported.
Kissi-Debrah had been very sick for a long time and was more susceptible to air pollution.
According to the BBC, Stephen Holgate, professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton, told Southwark Coroner’s Court that Kissi-Debrah had an “exceptionally rare” heath problem that put her at “exquisite” risk.
Barlow said traffic emissions, particularly nitrogen dioxide from diesel engines, contributed to her death. According to Reuters, Britain has failed to meet EU target levels of nitrogen dioxide.
Holgate also told the inquest that there had been a spike in nitrogen dioxide caused by diesel engines.
Testifying at the inquest, Dr. Bill Parish, deputy director of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said there had been an “uptick” in diesel vehicles, which were considered a way to combat carbon dioxide emissions.
“I understand that it was trying to decrease carbon dioxide emissions … but the effect was to increase nitrogen dioxide emissions,” he said, according to the Daily Mail. “That is what the data starts to tell us when the diesel fleet starts increasing.”
In 2001, the Labor government advocated switching to diesel cars to combat climate change.
“In 2001, then-Chancellor Gordon Brown introduced a new system of car tax aimed at protecting the environment. In actual reality, it fostered a popular move towards highly polluting diesel cars — a trend, which according to some experts, has been associated with thousands of premature deaths a year,” the BBC reported in 2017.
According to the BBC, the number of diesel vehicles in Britain grew from 3 million in 2000 to 12 million in 2017.
“There was a recognized failure to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide, which possibly contributed to (Kissi-Debrah’s) death, Barlow testified at the inquest, according to the BBC. “There was also a lack of information given to Ella’s mother that possibly contributed to her death.”
Barlow said if Kissi-Debrah’s mother, Rosamund, had known about the levels of pollution, she might have been able to take steps to help her daughter.
“Today was a landmark case, a 7-year fight has resulted in air pollution being recognized on Ella’s death certificate. Hopefully this will mean many more children’s lives being saved,” Rosamund wrote on Twitter.
This was the second inquest into the child’s death. A 2014 case did not consider air pollution as a possible cause, Reuters reported.
Activists were happy with the decision, calling it historic and cause for the British government to crack down on air pollution.
“The coroner’s unambiguous finding is a legal first and will certainly send a signal to the U.K. government,” said Katie Nield, a lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, which helped Kissi-Debrah’s legal team, Reuters reported.
Britain has pledged to ban the sale of gas and diesel cars and vans by 2030.
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