Smog over London

Smog over London, which has high levels of air pollution

Luca Calogero Mazzarella/EyeEm/Getty Images

The UK government should impose tougher legal limits on air pollution in line with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, to prevent more deaths like those of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, a coroner has urged.

An inquest last year by coroner Philip Barlow into the death of Ella in 2013 found that her exposure to dangerously dirty air in London had played a material role. She lived and walked to school in an area of south London that frequently breached UK limits for air pollution.

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In a report published today on preventing future deaths, Barlow made three recommendations. He said the government should bolster the UK’s air pollution limits, noting that they are currently “far higher” than the WHO’s guidelines. “Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” he said.

Barlow added that doctors and nurses are failing to sufficiently communicate the health risks of exposure to dirty air, and professional medical bodies need to address the shortcoming. Public awareness of local and national air pollution levels are low, said Barlow, which he suggested could be fixed by increasing the number of air-quality sensors. Central and local government must tackle that, he said.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, said in a statement that she would ask the UK’s environment secretary George Eustice to legislate to implement WHO air pollution rules in the wake of the report.

“Children are dying unnecessarily because the government is not doing enough to combat air pollution. In order to save lives the government must act now and take the three steps that the coroner has identified in his report,” she said.

The UK’s legal limit for a fine particulate form of pollution, PM2.5, is an annual mean of 20 micrograms per cubic metre, twice the 10 micrograms per cubic metre in WHO guidelines.

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