Justice for Ella

Sarah Woolnough, our CEO, discusses the legacy of Ella Kissi-Debrah and the action we need to protect people from toxic air.

This week a coroner in south London found that nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution. This is a groundbreaking case as, for the first time ever, exposure to air pollution will be on a death certificate.

Our hearts go out to Ella’s family who have fought tirelessly for this landmark outcome. Her mother, Rosamund is an inspirational campaigner, and I am in awe of her dedication to seeking justice for her daughter.  

Ella’s legacy has firmly put the spotlight on the invisible dangers of breathing dirty air for everyone but particularly for the millions of people in the UK with asthma and other forms of lung disease, whose lives are impacted on a daily basis as a result of inadequate air quality laws and policies. 1 in 11 children in the UK have asthma, and while for most their condition is not as severe as Ella’s, we know that breathing polluted air can make their symptoms worse and trigger attacks.

It’s time for change

This ruling sets the precedent for a seismic shift in the pace and extent to which the government, local authorities and clinicians must now work together to tackle the country’s air pollution health crisis.

The government now needs to set out a health protection plan to stop the effects of toxic air, with a particular focus on protecting children and people with a lung condition. That plan must include proposals to train up health professionals to give advice about air pollution and ensure people are getting the information they need to protect their health.

We need stronger targets

As the coroner highlighted, Ella was exposed to levels of air pollution in excess of the World Health Organization’s guidelines. It is more crucial than ever that the government commits to reaching those guidelines as soon as possible, and by 2030 at the latest.

Currently they want to wait until 2022 to tell us what our new air pollution targets will be, but every day the government don’t commit to strong limits is a day wasted.  They have an opportunity to make this positive change right now in the Environment Bill which is currently going through parliament.

Take action now

You can help secure this commitment from the government by joining the fight for clean air for everyone and emailing your MP now.

While we are still all having to live with toxic air on our doorsteps and you want to know what steps you can take now to reduce your child’s exposure to air pollution, read our health advice pages here.


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18 December 2020