A decade since England’s first official death from air pollution

Ten years have passed since the death of Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi Debrah. Pic: Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah

February 15 marks 10 years since the tragic death of nine-year-old Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi Debrah, officially the first person in England to have air pollution named as a cause of death on their death certificate.

Excessive air pollution in London contributed to her asthma, ultimately resulting in a fatal asthma attack on February 15, 2013.

In the 2021 global rankings, the UK ranked 94th out of 118 countries for worst air quality. UK government statistics from February last year show that the annual mortality from human-made air pollution in the UK is still equivalent to between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths every year.

Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi Debrah, has campaigned tirelessly since her daughter’s death, making legal history after a coroner found a direct link between Ella’s death and the air quality near her Lewisham home.

At the time of Ella’s death, the Deborah family lived just 25 metres from South Circular, one of London’s busiest roads.

Map showing the south circular road route (in green). Pic: cnBRB

In May 2022, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill was introduced to Parliament by Baroness Jenny Jones. Also referred to as ‘Ella’s Law’, it would force the UK government to meet minimum WHO standards for air quality and protect the public against the harmful effects of air pollution.

Other Clean Air Acts include those passed in 1956 and 1968, following the infamous The Great Smog of London incident in 1952, which killed 4,000 people. Experts now estimate the death toll could be as many as 12,000.

Rosamund Adoo-Kiss Debrah set up the Ella Roberta Foundation in her daughter’s name, to raise awareness of the dangers of air pollution and risk to health.

The website highlights the coroner’s recommendations following Ella’s case. These include:

  1. National Air Pollution Limits should be in line with WHO guidelines
  2. Raise awareness of the dangers of air pollution amongst the general public
  3. Ensure health professionals are aware of the dangers of air pollution, and that they tell their patients about it

Ella’s family continues to keep her memory alive in the community. A vigil attended by 100 people was held in Mountsfield Park, Catford, on January 24, 2022, on what would have been Ella’s 18th birthday.

This year, a dance tribute to Ella and her family took place in Rambert, Southbank, on February 15.

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