Air pollution must be tackled to stop the next generation being victims of future pandemics, the mother of a schoolgirl who died from asthma linked to dirty air has urged.
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s daughter Ella was nine when she suffered a fatal asthma attack, later linked by a coroner to her exposure to severe air pollution from living 25 metres from the South Circular in Lewisham, London.
The youngster, who died in 2013, would have turned 18 this week.
Speaking to the London Assembly’s environment committee, Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah called for greater education on the dangers of exposure to polluted air, with a public information campaign similar to that for smoking.
She pointed to the role air pollution played in the pandemic, calling for it to be part of the terms of reference in the future Covid-19 public inquiry.
The work really must start, because otherwise all these young people growing up with stunted lung growth, they are going to be the victims of future pandemicsRosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah
While she said it would be difficult to prove toxic air caused Covid-19 deaths, she said: “Air pollution weakens the immune system, so everyone is walking around with a weakened immune system.
“So if you put a lethal respiratory virus in there, that will account for a lot of the deaths.
“The other reason we need to clean up the air is this pandemic may not be the last, there will also be future pandemics, that’s why I’m extremely concerned about this.
“The work really must start, because otherwise all these young people growing up with stunted lung growth, they are going to be the victims of future pandemics.”
Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who is a BreatheLife Ambassador and founder of the Ella Roberta Family Foundation, criticised low traffic neighbourhood schemes that pushed more air pollution on to poorer communities.
“This is bordering on environmental racism” she said, and warned: “We can’t have clean air for some, it must be clean air for all.”
She called for the capital’s ultra low emission zone (Ulez) to be expanded out to the M25 or road pricing, as fairer options to tackle air pollution from vehicles.
She backed more school streets, which restrict motor traffic on roads with schools at the beginning and end of the school day, and said they should be rolled out near major roads as well as on side streets.
And children should be giving cycling lessons at school from an early age to encourage them to cycle, she suggested.
If we clean up the air in London, we will have a healthier population which is better able to cope with any health challenges which come along in the futureDr Ben Barratt, Imperial College London
Dr Ben Barratt, from the Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, told the committee that there was emerging evidence on the links between Covid-19 and air pollution.
But he said: “We know that air quality causes us throughout our life course to develop health issues, respiratory, cardio-vascular, cognitive, diabetes, all sorts of different conditions have been linked to air quality.
“If you grow up in a more polluted city, you will be more susceptible to underlying health conditions.
“At least 80% of people who have died of Covid have had underlying health conditions, therefore we don’t need a lot of research to know there’s a direct link between air pollution and Covid, because air pollution makes people more susceptible to communicable diseases such as Covid.”
He added: “If we clean up the air in London, we will have a healthier population which is better able to cope with any health challenges which come along in the future.”