Coroner rules girl’s cause of death: air pollution

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A London coroner ruled that a nine-year-old girl’s cause of death was air pollution. It’s the first time those two words have officially been linked to death.

Although Ella Kissi-Debrah passed away in 2013, it took seven years to get her death certificate revised to “acute respiratory failure, severe asthma, and air pollution exposure.”

Ella, who lived near one of London’s most traffic-congested streets, died after having an asthma attack.

I still think there’s a lack of understanding about the damage it [air pollution] does to young lungs, especially that are not truly formed. – Rosamund Kissi-Debrah (Ella’s mother)

Ella’s not alone


According to the assistant coroner, Philip Barlow, Ella was “exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in excess of World Health Organization guidelines.”

Despite being the first person to have “air pollution” on a death certificate, Ella isn’t alone. The WHO says that air pollution kills seven million people a year.

I believe that breathing clean air is a human right. – Rosamund Kissi-Debrah (Ella’s mother)

Education > Blame

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A 2018 report found air pollution levels just a mile from where Ella lived “consistently” exceeded lawful EU limits each of the three years before her death.

There is a lack of understanding about the impact of air pollution on the human body. – Rosamund Kissi-Debrah (Ella’s mother)

Despite her pain, Ella’s mother doesn’t want to play the blame game. She’d rather that her daughter’s death leads to educating others about air pollution.

Stephen Holgate of the University of Southampton sums it up best, “If we want a healthy generation to come into the world, we are going to have to clean up our environment.”

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