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A court in the United Kingdom has made legal history by ruling that air pollution is one of the causes of death of 9 year old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived near a busy road in London with her mother. Ella has become the first person in the UK – and potentially the world – for whom air pollution is listed as a cause of death.

The ruling confirms the need for legislation and proper implementation: it was illegal levels of air pollution listed amongst failures to reduce levels of NO2 which possibly contributed to her death. NO2 is linked to a large extent to transport pollution, with diesel cars are mostly to blame.  Apart from  acute respiratory failure and  severe asthma, air pollution exposure is now listed on Ella’s death certificate as an official cause of death.

The health costs of  air pollution are clear and Ella’s case illustrates what these numbers  actually mean for ordinary people. Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, who fought bravely for justice for her daughter  is also a WHO clean air advocate standing up for other children in Europe to breathe clean air.  The court’s verdict  is a strong reminder for mayors and national governments that transport-related air pollution costs lives and they need to act . 

Sascha Marschang, Acting Secretary General said “Science already demonstrated that air pollution is linked to chronic diseases and affects the most vulnerable the hardest. No more children should die early because of illegal vehicle emissions This is potentially the most important consequence of today’s ruling:  applying rules and keeping pollution levels low is a matter of life or death. We now need strong action from politicians to ensure there are no more preventable deaths from transport pollution in Europe”

Photo of Ella Kissi-Debra courtesy of the Ella Roberta Family Foundation