Bolder clean air laws would be ‘game-changer’ in protecting health – campaigners

Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent
·3-min read

Committing to bolder clean air laws would be a “game-changer”, campaigners have said in the wake of a coroner’s report into the death of a nine-year-old girl after exposure to toxic air.

The Government is under pressure to introduce new legal targets for dangerous air pollution known as particulate matter that are in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.

The coroner in the case of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died from a fatal asthma attack after being exposed to toxic air for years, has said national limits were set far higher than WHO guidelines.

In a prevention of further deaths report, assistant coroner Philip Barlow said legal targets in line with the guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK, and the Government should take action on the issue.

Responding to the report, Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “The death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah from a fatal asthma attack, triggered by air pollution, has shone a bright light on the need for the Government to urgently tackle toxic air.”

She said children, older people and the 6.5 million people in the UK living with respiratory disease are all at risk from poisonous air.

“If the Government follows the recommendations in this report, and commits to much bolder clean air laws in line with World Health Organisation guidelines, this would be a game-changer, potentially preventing thousands more families facing the death of a loved one because of air pollution.”

And she said: “We are urging the Government to produce a health protection plan for England to safeguard everyone from the effects of air pollution overseen by a newly created cross-government air quality minister.

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“This should include proposals to train up health professionals to understand how dirty air impacts our health and ensure people are getting the health information they need about air pollution to protect themselves.”

Environmental law charity ClientEarth has won a number of legal fights against the Government over its failure to meet legal limits for another air pollutant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Katie Nield, lawyer for ClientEarth, said: “The coroner’s report highlights that air pollution is still putting people’s lives at risk in the UK – eight years after Ella’s death and over a decade after legal limits should have been met.”

She said pollution is often touted as an ‘invisible killer’ but public bodies are well aware of where harmful emissions are coming from and their impact on people’s health.

The solution has been available to public bodies in the form of clean air zones, which remove the most polluting vehicles from the roads.

Ms Nield added: “The coroner himself has highlighted that legally binding targets based on stricter WHO guideline levels for harmful particulate matter would prevent future deaths.

“Toxic air is clearly not going to disappear on its own. The Government needs to get its act together and explain what more it is going to do to prevent lives like Ella’s being cut short.”

Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said the Government must take rapid steps to prevent similar tragedies to Ella’s death in the future.

“Too many lives are cut short every year because of polluted air,” she said. “Tougher legally binding requirements to meet World Health Organisation guidelines for the most dangerous fine particle air pollution by 2030 are urgently required and must be included in the Environment Bill.

“But targets alone are not enough – the main causes of air pollution must also be addressed.

“Ensuring that the vehicles on our roads are cleaner, and that there are fewer of them, will not only drive down air pollution, it will cut climate emissions too.”