Air Pollution Listed as Cause of Death for 9-Year-Old Girl Who Died After Fatal Asthma Attack

Ella Kissi-Debrah is believed to have been the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on a death certificate, according to the British Lung Foundation

Ella Kissi-Debrah
Ella Kissi-Debrah. Photo: HOLLIE ADAMS/Getty Images

A coroner in the United Kingdom has made history after determining that air pollution was a cause of death for a 9-year-old girl who died following an asthma attack.

Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died in February 2013, is now believed to be the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on a death certificate, according to the British Lung Foundation.

Philip Barlow, a coroner in London, said in an inquest on Wednesday that Ella "died of asthma, contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution," The Guardian reported.

Barlow said the child — who lived in Lewisham near South Circular, one of London's busiest roads — was exposed to "excessive" levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter that exceeded World Health Organization guidelines.

"The whole of Ella’s life was lived in close proximity to highly polluting roads. I have no difficulty in concluding that her personal exposure to nitrogen dioxide and PM was very high," Barlow said, according to The Guardian.

Barlow also told officials that there "was a recognized failure to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide" and "lack of information given to Ella's mother that possibly contributed to her death," the BBC reported.

Officials at the inquest heard that Ella suffered multiple seizures and was admitted to hospital 27 times in the three years before her death.

Ella's mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, said during the hearing that her daughter was first admitted to the hospital in 2010 after a coughing fit. At just 6 years old, Ella was placed in a medically induced coma for three days as doctors tried to stabilize her condition, according to the mom.

"I think people need to understand when Ella was rushed into hospital, a lot of the time she was barely breathing," she said, according to the BBC.

A previous inquest ruling from 2014 that concluded that Ella died of acute respiratory failure was quashed in light of the new evidence that showed pollution contributed to her severe asthma, Sky News reported.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said in a tweet that the new ruling was a "landmark moment."

"Today must now be a turning point," Khan wrote on Twitter. "Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis. Ministers and the previous Mayor have acted too slowly in the past, but they must now learn the lessons from the Coroner’s ruling and do much more to tackle the deadly scourge of air pollution in London and across the country."

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