A metropolis’s struggle with toxic air

In February 2013, after three years of suffering seizures and 27 hospital admissions, Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl living in southeast London, died. She had been looking forward to attending her school’s end-of-term disco and had even chosen an outfit for it, but never made it to the event. An inquest held a year later concluded that her death had been caused by acute respiratory failure from a severe asthma attack, with no mention of the role played by air pollution, a significant factor in the area that Kissi-Debrah lived in, by the South Circular, a major artery road in southeast London. Her family has, however, long been adamant in maintaining that environmental conditions played a part in her death, and in a subsequent report on the case by a medical expert, Professor Stephen Holgate, Kissi-Debrah’s death was linked to unlawfully high levels of air pollution in London at the time. Following a public campaign by Kissi-Debrah’s family, Britain’s Attorney-General has agreed to support its request for a new inquest into the girl’s death. The question of whether to hold a new inquest into her death will now be heard at the High Court. “I have concluded that there is new evidence which may alter the substantial truth of Ella’s death,” said Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox earlier this month, giving the necessary consent for the hearing to take place. If successful, the family’s campaign would have major implications for the U.K. — and potentially even beyond it given the widespread concern about the health implications of toxic air in the world’s biggest cities. “Having the effects of air pollution recorded on her death certificate would be a legal first,” wrote her mother Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in a note to her supporters. “It would send a clear message to our government that they must now tackle the deadly impact of air pollution.” The family’s campaign has received the backing of London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has made tackling air pollution in the capital and beyond a key priority. The costs are in addition to the congestion charge that vehicles already pay for weekday trips into central London. While cars that don’t meet the standards will have to pay £12.50, trucks will pay as much as £100 a day. There are more changes on the way — restrictions on wood-burning fires and biomass stoves used by farmers across the country and a plan to phase out the conventional combustion engines in vehicles sold after 2040. But not all are convinced that these are enough, particularly as Britain prepares to leave the EU and therefore no longer be subject to its environmental standards requirements.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-international/a-metropoliss-struggle-with-toxic-air/article26040655.ece

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