A coroner’s court in the United Kingdom has ruled that air pollution was a cause of death in the case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, an asthmatic 9-year-old girl who lived in southeast London and died in 2013.
The landmark decision came on Wednesday and is the first time in the U.K. that a death certificate has listed air pollution as a cause of death, reports the Independent. Lung health advocates also say the coroner’s ruling is one of the first in the world.
“Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma,” said the inquest record, which added that much of Ella’s exposure to the pollution came from traffic emissions. “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.”
According to the BBC, Ella lived near a busy road in London and died of a severe asthma attack after a grueling three years in which she was frequently in the hospital due to experiencing multiple coughing fits and seizures. Research shows that Black people in Britain are disproportionately exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels that exceed the limits set by the European Union.
“We’ve got the justice for her which she so deserved,” said Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah of the inquest ruling. “But also it’s about other children still, as we walk around our city of high levels of air pollution.”
“This must be a turning point, so that no one else has to suffer the same heartbreak as Ella’s family,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan of the landmark finding. “The Government must learn the lessons from this ruling, and do much more to tackle deadly air pollution in London and across our country.”
Similar to the dynamic in the U.K., the American Lung Association says communities in the U.S. that are predominantly Black face more exposure to air pollution than those that are mostly white, and that African Americans suffer a greater risk of premature death as a result of this pollution. The disproportionate harm experienced by people of color—and often Black people specifically—due to environmental hazards is another injustice fueled by the legacy of racism, which impacts where people live as well as their access to healthcare for chronic diseases like asthma.