Air pollution victim to be commemorated in Catford Park statue

Notice of proposed development for Ella Roberta statue. Pic: Pius Bentgens.

A new statue will be built in Catford Park to commemorate Ella Roberta Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who passed away at nine years old due to air pollution. 

Ella, who was living 25 meters from the South Circular in Lewisham, died in February, 2013, and after a historic legal case, became the first person worldwide to have cause of death listed on a death certificate as air pollution.

The statue has been commissioned by the Ella Roberta foundation, run by Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother. Since her daughter’s death, she has been working as a grassroots campaigner to spread awareness about health problems caused by air pollution. 

She told ELL: “The purpose of the statue is to keep the conversation of the impact of air pollution on health in the public domain. So much education has to be had, and it’s an important way to keep it going due to the invisibility of air pollution.”

According to Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, the statue will be complete around May 2024 and placed in an existing flower bed in Mountsfield Park, Catford, close to where Ella grew up.

The bronze statue is being designed by Amanda Ward Culver, a sculptor from Wimbledon.

In May 2022, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill was introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Jenny Jones after a petition for the bill was created by the Ella Roberta Foundation.

Also referred to as ‘Ella’s Law’, it will force the UK government to meet minimum WHO standards for air quality and protect the public against the harmful effects of air pollution.

The petition is ongoing and has reached 12,462 signatures to date.

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate reported the link between the severity of Ella’s asthma and pollution levels near her home, which were above WHO guidelines. 

He said: “The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions. During this period, there was a recognized failure to reduce the level of NO2 to within the limits set by EU and domestic law, which possibly contributed to her death.”

Since Ella’s death, air quality has improved somewhat. More on this by ELL here.

According to the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, annual average roadside NO2 levels as of 2022 have decreased by 60% from levels at the time of Ella’s death in 2013.

Graph showing the annual mean concentration of NO2 . Data: UK Gov

In response to this development, Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said: “It is very important that although air pollution has improved due to measures that the Mayor of London has taken, for example, much more needs to happen as there is no safe level.”

James Robottom, a human rights inquest lawyer who’s three-year-old daughter has asthma, told ELL: “We’re not far from where Ella lived, pollution is meant to be particularly bad in the outer London boroughs.”

Commenting on the ‘Ella’s Law’ petition, he said: “Given its an urgent risk to public health, I would like to see an enforceable right to clean air in legislation. Binding public right to clean air.“

However, 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.

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