Lower air pollution limits to prevent future deaths, says coroner
Stricter air pollution laws should be implemented in the UK to avoid future deaths as a result of our polluted cities.
The call has been made in a coroner’s report following the death of schoolgirl Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who died in 2013 following a severe asthma attack.
In December 2020, the Southwark Coroner’s Court confirmed that the UK’s illegal levels of air pollution contributed to the death of the nine-year-old, who lived Lewisham, South East London.
Today (21 April 2021), the coroner Philip Barlow issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report following the inquest and said that legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK. Currently, the UK’s national limits for particulate matter are set at a level far higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, but the evidence at the inquest was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be seen as minimum requirements.
The coroner’s report also highlights serious failings in the way the public are informed about dangerous levels of air pollution.
The coroner warned “there is a low public awareness of the sources of information about national and local pollution levels”. He added “greater awareness would help individuals reduce their personal exposure to air pollution”.
Commenting on the report, environmental campaign group T&E said delays in reducing air pollution will cause further deaths if action isn’t taken now, and that a coordinated public information campaign is needed.
Greg Archer, UK director at T&E, said: “Ella’s tragic death is a reminder of the risks vulnerable people face in our polluted cities. The Government must act on the advice of the coroner and include the WHO limits for fine particles in the Environment Bill. We must stop children dying from breathing toxic air. By taking this small, but important, step, the Prime Minister will ensure many parents sleep easier.”
Environmental law charity ClientEarth said the report highlights that air pollution is still putting people’s lives at risk in the UK and repeated its pleas for more Clean Air Zones to be deployed to tackle this.
ClientEarth lawyer Katie Nield said: “Pollution is often touted as an ‘invisible killer’ but for a long time public bodies have been well aware of where harmful emissions are coming from and the impacts they are having on people’s health. All the while, solutions have been at their fingertips: a network of Clean Air Zones would quickly remove the most polluting vehicles from our roads. The coroner himself has highlighted that legally binding targets based on stricter WHO guideline levels for harmful particulate matter would prevent future deaths.
“Toxic air is clearly not going to disappear on its own. The Government needs to get its act together and explain what more it is going to do prevent lives like Ella’s being cut short.”