Several days after her birthday, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah had an asthma attack. She had been in and out of the hospital for months, so it wasn’t the first time that she had an attack. This one, however, was different because it ended her life. She became the first person in the UK – and the world – to have air pollution recognised as the cause of her death.
Ella’s young and promising life was cut short because of the high levels of toxic air in the UK. She was like every regular nine-year-old: fun-loving, energetic, and enjoyed a lot of activities. Ella loved sports, especially swimming and gymnastics. She loved reading and the performing arts.
Even after her asthma diagnosis, Ella continued doing all her activities. One day, however, this changed as she blacked out after a coughing fit. She was resuscitated by a neighbour and brought to the hospital. One week later, she suffered from the same attack and stayed in the hospital for several days, where she had to be in a medically induced coma.
Two years of Ella’s young life were spent undergoing tests and trying to determine the exact cause of her illness. Although it was discovered that she was sensitive to allergens, doctors could not determine that this caused her asthma and recent attacks. When Ella died in February 2013, doctors still had no answers. They also did not mention air pollution as a possible cause of the young girl’s illness. Her mum Rosamund had no idea that their area had high levels of toxic air.
The nine-year-old’s death is actual evidence of the devastating effects of air pollution. It sparked reactions from residents, urging authorities and the government to take swift action and come up with a concrete plan of action for the fight against toxic air.
Clean air campaign
In April 2021, Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah called for stricter and more immediate action on air pollution. She also rallied for the creation of a new law named after her daughter. Rosamund said the government should seriously consider the coroner’s recommendations if the goal is to keep families healthy and safe. Rosamund said if air pollution laws are not improved or changed, the number of early deaths among children will continue to increase.
Estimates indicate that premature deaths linked to toxic air every year in the UK are between 28,000 and 36,000. Philip Barlow, the coroner who performed the inquest on Ella’s death, pointed out how essential it was to set stricter limits for certain pollutants, specifically tiny/fine particles known as particulate matter. These particles can easily get deep into a person’s lungs once inhaled. The government has to set the PM2.5 limits within the World Health Organization-mandated guidelines.
Rosamund, the coroner, campaign groups, charities, and even politicians strongly urged the government to amend the environmental bill, including the WHO-mandated air pollution guidelines. The bill should also be incorporated into Ella’s Law.
Ella’s Law is a clean air law created in remembrance of Ella and her struggles as she fought what, at that time, was an unexplainable illness. The bill addresses the need to form a special commission tasked to oversee the government’s progress and actions in the fight for clean air. The law is also a platform for joint actions on outdoor and indoor pollution, including the latest developments in fighting climate-related problems.
The law has a strong supporter in the person of Jenny Jones, who recently took first place in the private members’ bills ballot at the House of Lords. Jones pledged to help put the bill into law. She describes clean air as a human right.
Like the first Clean Air Act in the UK, Ella’s Law is a private member’s bill, and its timing is ideal. The latest figures show that approximately 4,000 London residents die each year due to toxic air. In the UK, the numbers are reportedly between 28,000 and 36,000 every year. Across the world, around seven million early deaths every year are linked to air pollution.
South Circular Road, where Ella and her mother lived, has high levels of nitrogen oxide or NOx emissions. These are emissions that come from diesel vehicles, such as the ones implicated in the Dieselgate diesel emissions fiasco. Volkswagen and Audi were the first vehicles that allegedly used defeat devices for cheating emissions tests. Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles have also been found to use illegal cheat devices.
The devices artificially lower emissions levels when a vehicle is being tested. As a result, the vehicle appears clean and emissions compliant during testing. However, when it is driven out on the road, the vehicle expels a considerable volume of NOx, in amounts that go beyond WHO- and EU-regulated limits.
NOx emissions harm plants, crops, and other vegetation. Exposure to these emissions can lead to serious health impacts, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and early death.
Vehicle owners dragged into the diesel emissions fiasco are encouraged to make a diesel claim against their manufacturer. This is the best way for them to contribute to the fight against air pollution.
Find out if you are eligible to bring a diesel emissions claim against your carmaker. Visit the Emissions.co.uk website to see if you are eligible to claim. They can help you start the claims process.