In the UK, air pollution recognized as a cause of Ella’s death

► What does the survey say?

This is important information, but the significance of which is less decisive than some have said. On Wednesday 16 December, the Deputy Coroner for the London Borough of Southwark, UK, charged with investigating the causes of death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, concluded that ” air pollution [avait] constituted a material contribution in [sa] death ”. This 9-year-old girl, suffering from asthma and who lived close to a busy road in South London, died on February 15, 2013, after three years of crises and repeated hospitalizations.

In 2014, a first investigation considered that Ella had died of acute respiratory failure caused by severe asthma but not due to pollution. However, the file was reopened, thanks to new scientific evidence. In a report submitted in 2018, Stephen Holgate, an air pollution specialist, noted a “Striking link” between Ella’s emergency hospitalizations and peaks in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particles near her home. Enough to relaunch the investigation, at the beginning of 2019, to reach this conclusion almost two years later, very different from the first.

► What is the significance of this conclusion?

Contrary to too hasty analyzes, this is not a judicial decision, but only the conclusion of the inquest of a coroner, who is not a judge. “This conclusion therefore has no judicial significance”, underlines Me Isabelle Laborde, lawyer in London. “Not only is no liability incurred, but it is not a case law” on which the complainants could base other cases.

This recognition of the aggravating nature of pollution in a girl with asthma remains nonetheless significant in certain respects, such as the awareness of the deleterious effects of pollution in large cities. “This could wake up the authorities, under pressure from public opinion”, continues the lawyer.

“This is very important information, estimates for his part Professor Bruno Housset, president of the Fondation du Souffle. Because it is generally very difficult to have the authorities recognize the link between pathologies and exposure to pollutants for a given person. While this is true from an epidemiological point of view! Air pollution leads to excess mortality. In France, it is estimated that it is responsible for 48,000 to 76,000 premature deaths ”. For Rosamund, Ella’s mother, who co-founded the “Ella Roberta family Foundation”, this is also an important step in her fight to limit automobile pollution near homes.

► What about appeals in France?

In France, the Grenoble administrative court ruled in November 2020 after several appeals from sick inhabitants of the Arve Valley (Haute-Savoie). He considered that the recurrent pollution in this valley (due to road traffic, heating, and certain industries) characterized well “A fault of the state”.

→ READ. Pollution of the Arve valley, the state “at fault” but not condemned

However, not being able to establish ” direct link “ between their pathologies and the threshold overruns, the court rejected all the requests. A few months earlier, in other cases, the courts of Montreuil, Paris and Lyon had done the same.


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