Camden Council’s statement on the Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah Inquest

For the first time in the UK, air pollution has been listed as a cause of death. It has been known for several years that air pollution is responsible for as many as 36,000 premature deaths annually, and that the costs to society amount to many billions of pounds in health and social care costs and lost productivity.

It is tragic that it has taken the death of a child and a mother’s tireless campaigning for air pollution to finally be recognised not only as an abstract and intangible threat, but a very present danger to the health of real people in the real world.

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died at the age of nine from asthma having lived near the South Circular and been exposed to levels of air pollution that exceeded the legal limits and the World Health Organization (WHO) standards. In his Report to Prevent Future Deaths, Southwark’s assistant coroner made three very clear recommendations for Central Government, local authorities and the healthcare sector:

  • Government must adopt WHO air quality standards as legally-binding objectives in the UK
  • Government and local authorities must improve public awareness about air pollution and its adverse impacts upon health
  • Medical professionals must provide information for patients about the adverse health effects of air pollution

We must all work together to prevent another avoidable tragedy. Camden is deeply committed to doing everything in our power to ensure that nobody suffers ill health as a result of the air they breathe.

Camden has led the call among local authorities for Government to enshrine the WHO air quality standards as the legal limits for the UK, having adopted these ourselves in 2018. Unfortunately, the Government has so far declined to make this important commitment. The Coroner’s ruling highlights the vital importance of leadership from Government, and we will continue to call on ministers to adopt the WHO standards in national legislation.

In response to the ruling, Camden Council will:

  • step up our efforts to raise public awareness about the health risks imposed by air pollution, including through our Clean Air for Camden engagement campaign which focuses on the importance of reducing and avoiding air pollution both outdoors and inside our homes, businesses and schools.
  • work with Camden’s Public Health team, hospitals, GPs and other healthcare services to ensure patients are provided with information about air quality and the actions that can be taken individually and collectively to protect health by avoiding exposure to air pollution.
  • continue to tackle air pollution in Camden by reducing emissions, including from road vehicles and buildings which collectively are responsible for 89% of nitrogen oxide emissions and 84% of fine particulate emissions.

During the first lockdown last year London experienced for the first time the benefit of a city less dominated by cars. Despite the bleak global situation, there was a sense of optimism and renewed vigour in pursuing a healthier environment for all, with national traffic volumes down 63% and cycling up 72%. In Camden the difference for roadside air quality was immediate and our automatic monitoring showed a 36% reduction in nitrogen oxide air pollution at Euston Road, historically Camden’s most polluted monitoring site. Unfortunately, traffic volumes have now returned to pre-pandemic levels and we expect to see a similar trend in roadside pollution levels.

Our ambitious climate programme will help to reduce local air pollution from fossil fuel use in buildings whilst also delivering against our net-zero carbon targets, which is more pertinent than ever as we approach the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow this November.

We also know that air pollution does not affect all people equally, and it has a disproportionate and inequitable effect upon less affluent neighbourhoods and Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

In light of this changing local, national, and international context, Camden will further:

There is a long way to go and we cannot delay. The London Borough of Camden will do all it can to realise the Coroner’s recommendations and tackle the air quality health crisis, and we call on our partners, our networks, and the government to do the same.

Councillor Adam Harrison, Cabinet member for a sustainable Camden

Councillor Pat Callaghan, Cabinet Member for a Healthy and Caring Camden