Government pledges action on air pollution in response to schoolgirl’s death

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah (PA Media)
15:22pm, Thu 17 Jun 2021
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The Government has pledged immediate action to raise public awareness of air pollution and moves to bring in new legal limits for pollutants next year.

Ministers have outlined a series of measures in response to a prevention of future deaths report into the case of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who suffered a fatal asthma attack in 2013 after being exposed to excessive air pollution.

Health campaigners warned the plans set out by the Government “just scratch the surface” of what is needed to be done to protect children from polluted air.

Ella lived 25 metres from the busy South Circular in Lewisham, London, and was exposed to illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter above World Health Organisation guidelines, mostly due to traffic fumes.

The coroner’s report, following a second inquest which ruled that air pollution contributed to her death, called for legally-binding goals for dangerous pollutant particulate matter (PM2.5) that are in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

Today’s response is part of a much wider cross-Government effort to drive forward tangible and long-lasting changes to improve the air we breathe

Assistant coroner Philip Barlow also said local and national governments should address the lack of public awareness about pollution information.

Health bodies and professional organisations needed to tackle the failure by doctors and nurses to communicate the adverse effects of air pollution on health to patients, he said.

The Government’s response to the report said immediate action would be taken to raise public awareness about air pollution, including a comprehensive review of existing sources of information to include more specific messaging for different groups.

It confirmed that a public consultation on new legal targets for PM2.5 will be launched early next year, with the aim of having them in place by October 2022, using WHO guidelines to inform the ambition in setting the targets.

The Government’s response also sets out an extra £6 million for local authorities to improve air quality and moves to work with broadcasters, social media companies and app providers to spread information about high pollution levels.

It is also working on a “more sophisticated” population exposure reduction target which aims to drive reductions not just in pollution “hotspots”, but in all areas, officials said.

The NHS in England will also work on a more systematic approach to asthma management, including identifying environmental triggers and promoting more personalised care for individual patients.

Without bold action, tens of thousands of people will continue to die early from air pollution each year

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Ella’s death was a tragedy and I would like to pay tribute to her family and friends who have campaigned so tirelessly on this issue, and continue to do so.

“Today’s response is part of a much wider cross-Government effort to drive forward tangible and long-lasting changes to improve the air we breathe, as well as doing more to inform the public about the risks.”

He added that air pollution levels had reduced significantly since 2010, but said: “We know that there is more to do, which is why we are setting new legally-binding targets on particulate matter pollution and building on our Clean Air Strategy to accelerate action to clean up our air.”

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said millions of people with asthma and other lung conditions would welcome a plan to make more health information available to the public and health care professionals, warning about the dangers of air pollution.

“But these plans just scratch the surface of what needs to be done to protect children like Ella from polluted air.

“We need ambitious new laws that tackle the cause of the problem, with targets that meet the coroner’s recommendation to adopt World Health Organisation guidelines.

“Without bold action, tens of thousands of people will continue to die early from air pollution each year,” she warned.

Air pollution, caused by pollutants including particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide from sources such as traffic fumes, as well as domestic heating fuels and agriculture, contributes to tens of thousands of early deaths a year.

It can create a catalogue of health problems: it triggers strokes, heart and asthma attacks, causes cancer and can stunt lung growth in children, has been linked to premature births, damage to children’s learning and even dementia.

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