Coroner calls for tougher air pollution targets to cut deaths

22/04/2021
Dominic Browne

A coroner has written to government departments including the Department for Transport (DfT), calling for action on air pollution to 'prevent future deaths'.

The DfT, Transport for London and environment department Defra were told that 'legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK'.

The report from Philip Barlow, assistant coroner for Inner South London, follows the death of nine-year old Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah in 2013. Her inquest was the first time in the UK that air pollution was given as a cause of death.

Mr Barlow was the coroner who re-opened an investigation into her case, which concluded on 16 December 2020.

In his 'action to prevent future deaths' report, he wrote to interested parties: 'There was no dispute at the inquest that atmospheric air pollution is the cause of many thousand premature deaths every year in the UK. Delay in reducing the levels of atmospheric air pollution is the cause of avoidable deaths.'

He went on to write: 'In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken. In the circumstances it is my statutory duty to report to you.

'(1) The national limits for Particulate Matter are set at a level far higher than the WHO guidelines. The evidence at the inquest was that there is no safe level for Particulate Matter and that the WHO guidelines should be seen as minimum requirements.

'Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK.

'(2) There is a low public awareness of the sources of information (such as UK-Air website) about national and local pollution levels. Greater awareness would help individuals reduce their personal exposure to air pollution.

'It was clear from the evidence at the inquest that publicising this information is an issue that needs to be addressed by national as well as local government.

'The information must be sufficiently detailed and this is likely to require enlargement of the capacity to monitor air quality, for example by increasing the number of air quality sensors.

'(3) The adverse effects of air pollution on health are not being sufficiently communicated to patients and their carers by medical and nursing professionals.'

The recipients are under a duty to respond by 17 June 2021, with details of action taken or proposed to be taken, setting out the timetable for action. Otherwise the parties must explain why no action is proposed.

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