Air pollution officially blamed for little girl’s death in UK 7 years after she died

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A 9-year-old London girl who died in 2013 is now the first in the United Kingdom to have air pollution listed as an official cause of death – after her mother spent years fighting findings that blamed only respiratory failure, according to authorities.

Advocates are hoping the change will lead to an acknowledgement of the city’s dangerous air pollution – and a crackdown.

Ella Kissi-Debrah suffered from severe hypersecretory asthma, according to records from London’s coroner. Episodes frequently resulted in cardiac arrest or seizures.

She visited the hospital 27 times between her sixth birthday and her death. On Feb. 15, 2013, a month after her eighth birthday, she had an asthma attack and fell into cardiac arrest. Medical workers at the University Hospital Lewisham were unable to revive her.

Her mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, launched a campaign against air pollution after Ella’s death to raise awareness. Authorities agreed to begin a formal inquest, which started almost exactly a year ago on Dec. 17, 2019.


“Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma,” the coroner’s office unveiled Tuesday in announcing the results of the investigation. “During the course of her illness between 2010 and 2013, she was exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in excess of World Health Organization Guidelines.”

Aerial view of London's financial district in the fog.

Aerial view of London’s financial district in the fog.

The investigation blamed traffic emissions, saying there was “a recognized failure” to reduce NO2, which exceeded limits set by local law and the European Union.

“This must be a turning point so that other families do not have to suffer the same heartbreak – which is why I want the Government to introduce an alert system to make the public more aware of dangerous pollution levels,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted.


The official cause of death is now listed as “asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.”

“I want this to be about her day,” Ella’s mother told the British news outlet ITV. “And yes it’s taken me seven years, but I’ve got here now. I will go to bed this evening knowing that at some stage, we can get a death certificate for her and it’s actually going to be on there.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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