A nine-year-old girl who died following an asthma attack has become the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.
Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London, died in 2013.
Southwark Coroner’s Court found that air pollution “made a material contribution” to Ella’s death.
Prof Gavin Shaddick, a government adviser on air pollution, called it “a landmark decision”.
Coroner Philip Barlow said Ella had been exposed to “excessive” levels of pollution.
The inquest heard that in the three years before her death, she had multiple seizures and was admitted to hospital 27 times.
Delivering a narrative verdict, Mr Barlow said levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) near Ella’s home exceeded World Health Organizations guidelines.
He added: “There was a recognised failure to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide, which possibly contributed to her death.
“There was also a lack of information given to Ella’s mother that possibly contributed to her death.”
Prof Shaddick, who leads Exeter University’s data science department, said he hoped the inquest ruling “makes improving the air we breathe easier to achieve in the future”.
“It’s just regrettable it’s taken this case to achieve it,” he added.
Ella was first taken to hospital in 2010 after a coughing fit, her mother Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debra told the inquest.
As a six-year-old, she had to be placed in a medically induced coma for three days to try to stabilise her condition.
By the summer of 2012, Ella was classified as disabled and her mother said she often had to carry her by piggyback to get her around.
Ella died in the early hours of 15 February 2013, following a severe asthma attack.
A 2018 report found unlawful levels of pollution, which were detected at a monitoring station one mile from Ella’s home, contributed to her fatal asthma attack.
The report’s author Prof Sir Stephen Holgate said Ella had been “living on a knife edge” in the months before her death.
The inquest heard Ella’s family did not know of the risks posed by air pollution.
Sadiq Khan, who as mayor of London was named as an interested party in the inquest, called the result “a landmark moment”.
Mr Khan said: “Today must be a turning point so that other families do not have to suffer the same heartbreak as Ella’s family.
“Ministers and the previous mayor have acted too slowly in the past, but they must now learn the lessons from the coroner’s ruling.”
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, called on the government to outline a public health plan to protect against “toxic air” immediately.
She said: “Our hearts go out to Ella’s family who have fought tirelessly for today’s landmark outcome.
“Today’s verdict sets the precedent for a seismic shift in the pace and extent to which the government, local authorities and clinicians must now work together to tackle the country’s air pollution health crisis.”