Poorer people ‘weaponised’ in Ulez debate, says air pollution campaigner

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Poorer people are being “weaponised” in the debate about expanding the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (Ulez), the mother of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has said.

The nine-year-old girl died after an asthma attack brought on by exposure to London’s traffic emissions, and in a landmark coroner’s case was the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death at an inquest in the UK.

Her mother Rosamund has been campaigning for cleaner air in UK cities since Ella’s death in 2013 and is a strong supporter of the Ulez expansion, which would see the zone spread beyond its current borders at the north and south circular to encompass outer London.

It would mean drivers in those areas could face a daily charge of £12.50 if their vehicles are not compliant.

The boundary is due to change on August 29 and the scheme has been opposed by some local authorities in the home counties, including former prime minister Boris Johnson.

“No, really poor people who heat or eat don’t even have cars. And they’ve been used in this. They are the ones standing at the bus stop on the south circular waiting for the bus and I think they’ve weaponised it now.”

In a report setting out his recommendations for preventing future deaths, assistant coroner Philip Barlow said Ella’s death had been caused by overexposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter above the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines during the three years prior to her death.

He said air pollution is the cause of “many thousand premature deaths every year in the UK” and that legally-binding limits on particulate matter emissions would reduce that, as would more awareness among the public, patients and carers on how to prevent exposure.

Breathe For Ella artwork unveiling
The projection of Dryden Goodwin’s artwork onto the Rambert building on London’s South Bank depicts Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah struggling to breathe (David Parry/PA)

Along with Green Party peer Baroness Jones and Caroline Lucas MP, she is now campaigning for the enactment of the Clean Air Bill, nicknamed Ella’s Law, which would require the Government to achieve and maintain clean air in England and Wales.

Hosted by the art-science organisation Invisible Dust, art by Dryden Goodwin depicting Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was projected onto the Rambert building on London’s South Bank on Wednesday night while Ella’s siblings Robert and Sophia performed on stage.

Speaking to the PA news agency outside the event, which was to mark the 10th anniversary of her daughter’s death, Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said there is a “lung apartheid” between people with access to clean air and those without.

She added: “Depending on where you live will depend on the quality of air. That’s not acceptable. All children’s lives are worth it.

“In London, a quarter of a million children have asthma – that is rising. The number of 8-12 [aged] deaths in London – that hasn’t changed since Ella died.

“Nationally, 22-24 children are still dying. The only time no child died in this country was during the first lockdown. So I know it can be done, I’ve had a taste of it. And we also now all know what clean air is because we all saw it. That’s all I am asking for.”

Breathe For Ella artwork unveiling
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan spoke in favour of Ella’s Law and justified his plans to expand Ulez (David Parry/PA)

He said: “If we do nothing, the gap between the poorest parts of our cities having the worst air, and the less poor parts having better air will continue to widen.

“It’s an issue of social justice, those least likely to own a car suffer some of the worst consequences.

“And we know the 10 boroughs with the worst quality air with the largest number of premature deaths are all in outer London. I think clean air is a right not a privilege.”

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