9-Year-Old Girl’s Asthma Death Officially Linked to Air Pollution in Unprecedented Coroner Ruling
A UK coroner ruled Wednesday that the asthma death of a nine-year-old girl was partly caused by the illegal levels of air pollution she was exposed to near her Southeast London home.
The ruling is a legal first for the UK, The Guardian reported. Charities Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation also said it was the first time anyone in the world had air pollution listed as a cause of death on their death certificate, CNN reported.
"Ella died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution," inner South London coroner Philip Barlow decided Wednesday, as The Guardian reported.
Ella Kissi-Debrah lived 80 feet from the extremely busy and polluted South Circular Road. Her ordeal began at the age of six, when she was taken to the hospital in 2010 because of a severe coughing fit, BBC News reported. She was placed in a medically-induced coma for three days to stabilize her condition. By 2012, she was classified as disabled because of her respiratory problems. She died Feb. 15, 2013 after a severe asthma attack. Between her first hospitalization and her death, she had been hospitalized 27 times and experienced multiple seizures.
Immediately after she died, her cause of death was listed only as a severe asthma attack leading to respiratory failure, CBS News reported. But Stephen Holgate, the former chair of the UK government's advisory committee on air pollution and a professor at the University of Southampton, prepared a report for Ella's mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah. The report found that the times Ella was rushed to the hospital corresponded with times when air pollution spiked around her home, as EcoWatch reported in 2018.
The report was then used to open a new inquest into Ella's death, according to CBS News. This was the process that led to Wednesday's ruling.
"Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbation of her asthma," Barlow said, according to a PA story reported by CNN. "During the course of her illness between 2010 and 2013 she was exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in excess of World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions."
Barlow also said that her death might have been prevented if her mother had been given more information about the dangers of air pollution and its relationship to asthma.
Kissi-Debrah said she was pleased with the new ruling and hoped it would be her daughter's legacy.
"We've got the justice for her which she so deserved," Kissi-Debrah said, according to a PA story reported by CNN. "Also it's about other children still as we walk around our city of high levels of air pollution. Her legacy would be to bring in a new Clean Air Act and for governments – I'm not just talking about the UK government – governments around the world to take this matter seriously."
Around seven million people die every year because of air pollution, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nine out of ten people also breathe air that exceeds WHO pollution limits. In London, more than two million people and 400,000 children are living in areas with illegal levels of air pollution, CBS News reported.
"Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis, especially for our children, and the inquest underlined yet again the importance of pushing ahead with bold policies such as expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone to inner London," London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement responding to Wednesday's ruling. "Ministers and the previous Mayor have acted too slowly in the past, but they must now learn the lessons from the Coroner's ruling and do much more to tackle the deadly scourge of air pollution in London and across the country."
Clean air advocates are calling for urgent action in response to the decision, including making London streets more friendly for biking and walking and increasing the city's clean-air zone for vehicles, BBC News reported.
Professor Gavin Shaddick, a government advisor on air pollution who leads Exeter University's data science department, said he hoped the ruling would make action to fight air pollution easier.
"It's just regrettable it's taken this case to achieve it," he told BBC News.
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By Kate Whiting
From Greta Thunberg to Sir David Attenborough, the headline-grabbing climate change activists and environmentalists of today are predominantly white. But like many areas of society, those whose voices are heard most often are not necessarily representative of the whole.
1. Wangari Maathai<p>In 2004, Professor Maathai made history as the <a href="https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/Prize-winners/Prizewinner-documentation/Wangari-Maathai" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize</a> for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She started the <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Green Belt Movement</a>, a community-based tree planting initiative that aims to reduce poverty and encourage conservation, in 1977. More than 51 million trees have been planted helping build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls. Her environmental work is celebrated every year on <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/node/955" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March</a>.</p>
2. Robert Bullard<p>Known as the 'father of environmental justice,' Dr Bullard has <a href="https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/laureates/2020/robert-bullard" target="_blank">campaigned against harmful waste</a> being dumped in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S. since the 1970s. His first book, Dumping in Dixie, highlighted the link between systemic racism and environmental oppression, showing how the descendants of slaves were exposed to higher-than-average levels of pollutants. In 1994, his work led to the signing of the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/albert-huang/20th-anniversary-president-clintons-executive-order-12898-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Executive Order on Environmental Justice</a>, which the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/" target="_blank">Biden administration is building on</a>.<br></p>
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Pollution has a race problem. Elizabethwarren.com
3. John Francis<p>Helping the clean-up operation after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in January 1971 inspired Francis to <a href="https://planetwalk.org/about-john/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop taking motorized transport</a>. Instead, for 22 years, he walked everywhere. He also took a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, so he could listen to others. He has walked the width of the U.S. and sailed and walked through South America, earning the nickname "Planetwalker," and raising awareness of how interconnected people are with the environment.</p>
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4. Dr. Warren Washington<p>A meteorology and climate pioneer, Dr. Washington was one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change. These models now also incorporate the oceans and sea ice, surface water and vegetation. In 2007, the <a href="https://www.cgd.ucar.edu/pcm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Parallel Climate Model (PCM)</a> and <a href="https://www.cesm.ucar.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Community Earth System Model (CESM)</a>, earned Dr. Washington and his colleagues the <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2007/summary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nobel Peace Prize</a>, as part of the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a>.</p>
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5. Angelou Ezeilo<p>Huge trees and hikes to pick berries during her childhood in upstate New York inspired Ezeilo to become an environmentalist and set up the <a href="https://gyfoundation.org/staff/Angelou-Ezeilo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greening Youth Foundation</a>, to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. Through its schools program and Youth Conservation Corps, the social enterprise provides access to nature to disadvantaged children and young people in the U.S. and West Africa. In 2019, Ezeilo published her book <em>Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders</em>, co-written by her Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Nick Chiles.</p>
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