A nine-year-old girl’s fatal asthma attack has been linked to
illegally high levels of air pollution. Ella Kissi-Debrah lived 25m
(80ft) from London’s South Circular Road – a notorious pollution
“hotspot”.  She experienced three years of seizures and hospital stays
before her death in February 2013. During that time, local air
pollution levels breached EU legal limits.  No individual death has
previously been directly linked to air pollution.  According to a
report by one of the UK’s leading experts on asthma and air pollution,
Prof Stephen Holgate, there was a “striking association” between
Ella’s emergency hospital admissions and recorded spikes in nitrogen
dioxide (NO2) and PM10s, the most noxious pollutants.  His report said
there was a “real prospect that without unlawful levels of air
pollution, Ella would not have died”. The evidence will be submitted
in an appeal to the attorney general to re-open an inquest in to
Ella’s death. Ella often walked to school along the South Circular
Road and Lewisham High Street, a journey that would take 30-40
minutes. Or she would be driven and have to sit for lengthy periods in
traffic jams. She was first taken to hospital in 2010 after a coughing
fit that followed a spike in air pollution levels.  She was
subsequently admitted to hospital 27 times over three years. Many of
these coincided with recorded peaks in air pollution. Her mother,
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, said she had resuscitated Ella between 20
and 30 times while waiting for an ambulance.  She said that Ella had
been treated in five separate hospitals but no medical professional
had ever explained that air pollution could be making her asthma
worse.  “I need to find out for myself why she died and what the
causes are,” Mrs Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said. “I need this for my other
children, in order to protect their health.
“I also believe there is a public interest in examining her death
because if this direct link were made then the health of our children
would have to be prioritised over other considerations including the
convenience of drivers.” Human rights lawyer Jocelyn Cockburn, from
the firm Hodge Jones and Allen, is acting on behalf of the family. She
said: “It doesn’t make sense that so much information is now available
about the health impact of air pollution and the link to thousands of
the deaths in the UK and yet there has been, as yet, no direct link
made to an individual death.  “Ella’s case illustrates the
hard-hitting human impact of air pollution.” Prof Holgate, from
University Hospital Southampton, chaired the government’s advisory
committee on the effects of air pollution.  In his report, he
described exposure to air pollutants as a “key driver” of Ella’s
disease. “Unlawful levels of air pollution contributed to the cause
and seriousness of Ella’s asthma in a way that greatly compromised her
quality of life and was causative of her fatal asthma attack.” He
examined records gathered by a government-monitored air pollution
monitoring station in Catford, just one mile from Ella’s house, and
another three miles from her home.  According to Prof Holgate, the
fact the monitoring stations were so close to Ella’s house meant the
results, when combined with data from King’s College London and
correlated with Ella’s hospital visits, were “particularly
insightful.” Spikes in air pollution coincided with all but one of
Ella’s hospital admissions.  And she died after one of the “worst air
pollution episodes in her locality.”   Prof Holgate examined other
possible causes of Ella’s condition but concluded the cause of death
should be recorded as acute respiratory failure and severe asthma
secondary to air pollution exposure.

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