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What is Ella’s Law? Sadiq Khan apologises to family whose daughter was killed by air pollution

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died from dangerous levels of air pollution in 2013  (Family handout/PA Media)
Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died from dangerous levels of air pollution in 2013 (Family handout/PA Media)

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan apologised today (Friday, 2 February) to the mother of the nine-year old who died because she lived near roads with illegal levels of toxic air.

Speaking at City Hall, the mayor expressed his regret to Rosamund Adoo-Kissi Debrah for the loss of her daughter Ella Adoo-Kissi.

Ella, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London, died after an asthma attack in 2013, caused by excessive levels of air pollution.

He said: “As the mayor of London, I’d like to take this opportunity – on behalf of the Greater London Authority and our city – to offer a full and unqualified apology for not acting sooner to tackle air pollution, which ultimately led to the tragic death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.

“In recent years, we’ve ensured that London is a world-leader in reducing air pollution. But it’s clear that London’s leaders and institutions could have done more – and sooner – to address the dangers of toxic air.

“And so, to Ella’s mother Rosamund, her family and to all those who knew and loved Ella, I simply say: Sorry. You deserved so much better.”

In 2022, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill was introduced and passed in the House of Lords. Named after Ella, who last year became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death. The Bill is still being deliberated by MPs in the House of Commons, having yet to pass through to the final stage.

The Private Member’s Bill, put forward by Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, would require public bodies to review and monitor pollution limits, with the aim of achieving clean air within five years.

The bill, which was backed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, would also set up a commission to scrutinise Government action.

Lady Jones said: “This is quite a momentous day for me and many other people...Parliament has the need, the power and the opportunity to enshrine the human right to clean air precisely and explicitly in England and Wales law.

“Doing so would improve decision-making at all levels of government overnight.”

She paid tribute to Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, who was present in the chamber for the third reading of the bill.

Last week, Ella’s mother brought her claim “to try and establish the right to clean air” to the High Court.

Mrs Adoo-Kissi Debrah  is suing three government departments for compensation over her daughter's premature death. Her lawyer said in a written argument, this was “no ordinary personal injury claim.”

So far, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care are disputing the claim.

What is Ella’s Law?

The Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, or Ella’s Law, would establish the human right to breathe clean air precisely and explicitly in UK law.

It would require the Secretary of State to achieve clean air throughout England and Wales within five years of the passing of the act and maintain it thereafter.

In pursuit of the aim of clean air, it would require public bodies to review and monitor pollution limits and would set up a commission to scrutinise Government action.

The Environment Agency and Committee on Climate Change would be required to review the pollutants and limits annually and advise the Secretary of State if they need tightening.

What happened to Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah?

Nine-year-old Ella Addoo Kissi-Debrah was admitted to hospital more than 30 times before she died of acute respiratory failure in February 2013. Following her death, it emerged that Ella had a form of asthma that made her particularly sensitive to the quality of the air she breathed.

Her lungs collapsed or partially collapsed on five occasions, as she struggled to survive what the coroner heard was a form of asthma that flooded her lungs with fluid.

There was also a correlation between spikes in air pollution near the family home and Ella’s admissions to hospital.

Ella and her family lived just 25 metres from South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London, where levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution from traffic constantly exceeded the annual legal limit of 40µg/m3 between 2006 and 2010.

Why is air pollution in London so bad?

London has reported illegal levels of air pollution since 2010, and it contributed to about 4,000 excess deaths in the capital in 2017.

The sheer size of London, combined with a dense road network and tall buildings, means central London is one of the most polluted places in the UK, according to the London Air Quality Network. Pollution builds up when it becomes trapped between buildings, especially during still weather.

Road vehicles are the leading cause of London’s air pollution, generating half of the nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that clog the air and get into our lungs, according to TfL. They cause congestion – costing the capital billions of pounds a year – and by emitting carbon dioxide, contribute to climate change.

What is the Government doing to tackle air pollution?

The government has taken some steps to tackle air pollution. In March 2022, the government announced a £11.6 million boost for local authorities to deal with pollution, and deliver projects to improve the air quality.

Also in 2022, England’s environmental watchdog warned that Londoners’ lives are being put at risk by the Goverment’s bungled post-Brexit targets to tackle toxic air.

The Office for Environmental Protection criticised the Government for failing to meet a deadline to set a series of new targets under the Environment Act 2021, which aims to set standards after the UK left the EU and ditched its system of eco-protections.

The OEP also told ministers that some of the targets were too weak, including on pollution, with the capital most affected by this toxic air.

Earlier this month, OEP revealed the government remains off track to meet most of its own targets set out under the Environmental Act 2021. A report published by the OEP, criticised the “persistent lack of progress” by the government in tackling climate issues.

The Government is proposing to set a target to cut tiny PM2.5 particulate pollution to an annual mean concentration target of 10µg/m3 to be met across England by 2040.

But this is a decade slower than the European Union’s goal.

Scientists say PM2.5 pollution is particularly harmful as it can seep deep into people’s lungs and into their bloodstream, contributing to heart disease and breathing illnesses.

The Government has defended its stance, arguing that the target has to be achievable across England including in pollution hotspots such as in London.